Often the challenge with ‘portmanteau’ novels such as Robert Seethaler’s “The Field” is one of maintaining a cohesive narrative thread throughout the work in order to prevent it from fragmenting into discrete and inadequately connected portraits.
The premise behind “The Field” – the deceased, all buried in the same graveyard in a small European town, recounting parts of their life stories – is original enough. To my mind however, with the exception of the priest who goes mad and sets fire to himself and his church, the plot lines which tie the characters together are insufficiently strong or well-defined to do the job required, and thus I fear we are left with a series of vignettes too loosely connected. And there are so many of them that it is too easy to miss the relationships between the dead characters.
This isn’t to say that the way the book is written, the language used, is disappointing. Far from it. Apart from one or two clumsy moments in the translation I read, “The Field” is well-written and easy to read. The vignettes are punchy enough to keep the pace up. As a whole though, the book may have benefitted from fewer characters with each of their monologues being longer, allowing them to develop a greater sense of depth and permitting a bit more scaffolding around those plot lines.