Book Review: 2012 Long Listed: Sam Thompson’s Communion Town

With respect to the reviewers who are offering Communion Town 4 stars on Goodreads, the logic behind including this title in the long list for the 2012 Man Booker Prize completely escapes me.

Please don’t misunderstand; this book does offer an interesting format, with its 10 chapters doubling as short stories.  The common thread between these is the fact that each takes place in the same city.  Some chapters run wild with nameless characters, and some attempt to delve deeper, offering glimpses of everything from friendship to murder.

Included among the story lines are a career criminal, a folk musician, a slaughterhouse employee, and a seasoned detective.  There are even pale, shadowy beings that float throughout; their presence a haunting reminder that inside the city’s boundaries lurks something sinister.  Including these tormented beings gave the book a mystical tone, which allowed it to move beyond the harsh realities of so many of the protagonists.  I didn’t mind that; in fact, I welcomed it.

What seemed to hang in the air more than anything, however, was the fact that Communion Town is a bleak place, and its inhabitants are largely miserable.  Besides everything taking place within city limits, the other common thread between the chapters appeared to be the chronic unhappiness of its people.   In other words, if you’re up for a light read, I would leave this book on the shelf for now.

Overall, I’m afraid that I found little connection to the residents of Communion Town, and even less emotional involvement with the bulk of the story lines. Were a few of the chapters compelling?  I would be telling a fib if I didn’t admit that I was intrigued by a couple of them, specifically The Significant City of Lazarus Glass.  One of the darker chapters, it offered more in the way of people’s motives and reactions, and I found myself turning pages faster here than all the others combined.

I must also note that the writing was rich.  Truly, if you weren’t giving it your full attention, you would certainly miss a thought:

Exquisite enigmas, mysteries sinister and bizarre: for Peregrine Fetch these were at once a vocation and the keenest happiness in life.  As an archive of the gruesome and the perplexing his casebook is without peer and yet, even there, the details of his final adventure must strike the interpreter as anomalous.

With so much conveyed in every word, it was clear that Sam Thompson was thoroughly invested in his writing.

I wavered between 2.5 and 3 stars for this review, finally settling on 3.  While not my favorite read, Communion Town was creative.  My takeaway, however, is that there are more deserving titles for the Booker Prize long list.

For more thoughts on this, please visit fellow Bookermarks reviewer Karli’s Communion Town review, which you can find here.

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