It’s fair to say that it would be entirely realistic to suggest that one could sit down and read Andrew Michael Hurley’s “Starve Acre” in a single session. The book is the right size, well-written, and rattles along at a suitable pace to make consumption in one go not a ridiculous notion.
What is less realistic is the story line, of course. And although it is not supposed to be ‘real’ – such events as depicted in the novel don’t happen in real life, do they? – there are two flaws which, for me, undo all the good work.
[ Spoiler alert! ]
Taking these in the wrong order, the second relates to the outcome of the seance where we’re told that something magical and beautiful happened, and was experienced simultaneously by four people. Richard – who was there but not one of the four – on multiple occasions asks his wife, Juliette, what they ‘saw’. He wants to know – as much as we, the reader, wants to know. But we are never told – I suspect because Hurley either didn’t know himself, or couldn’t find something to describe or a way to describe it. Maybe that’s okay and in a way part of the mystery of the thing, but it does leave a ‘hole’…
What I find far less forgivable is the first flaw. In Richard we have a University lecturer who is practical, methodical, defiantly sceptical of the spiritual, the notion of seances, the after-life etc. – and yet he is perfectly happy to accept watching a bag of old rabbit bones transforming themselves before his eyes back into the living, breathing rabbit of whose skeleton those same bones had once been an integral part. The notion itself is daft of course, but this is a surreal horror story so maybe we’ll let it go; but for Richard to accept it unquestioningly seems to me a major failure of character portrayal, and coloured my view of the rest of the novel accordingly.
Previously I have read Hurley’s “The Loney” (but before I started writing these short reviews), and I recall liking it.