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Monday, 29 July 2013

Penny Feeny reviews 'The Incident' set on the BALTIC COAST

 Penny Feeny by 
Stephanie de Leng

We are so pleased to welcome Penny Feeny as our guest blogger, author herself of two terrific novels set in Italy. She reviews The Incident by Kenneth Macleod, set on the Baltic Coast of Germany.

Penny has worked as a copywriter, editor, and radio presenter but her real love is writing fiction. Her short stories have been broadcast by the BBC and appeared widely in magazines and anthologies (Her Majesty, A Little Aloud, and Bracket among others). The story she wrote for Bracket subsequently grew into a novel,The Apartment in Rome, which has just been published by Tindal Street Press. Her debut, That Summer in Ischia, reached Amazon's number one spot and was their best-selling title in the summer of 2011. She's been settled in Liverpool with her family for many years now, but previously lived in Italy and will always been drawn to that most seductive of countries!

The Incident by Kenneth Macleod

Until recently much of the Baltic has been inaccessible to the West. Perhaps this is the reason we’ve been lured to the heat, colour and sophistication of the Mediterranean.  But the Baltic has its own charm:  a glorious coastline of long sandy beaches and warm shallow waters, with a fascinating history to be read in its abandoned buildings.  In Heiligendamm, for instance, where the G8 summit was held in 2007, there is a magnificent crescent of grand Edwardian villas from  the resort’s heyday, lying empty and shuttered for decades.
Heiligendamm is in what used to be East Germany. Kenneth Macleod’s The Incident takes place near Grömitz which faces it across the sea from the West. The novel is set in the mid-80s when the Berlin Wall still divided the country, and the machinations of the Stasi feature prominently.  Macleod  also begins his tale with the image of a seaside structure: a lifeguard tower  – ‘the Germans call a tower like this a tomb’ – which for the narrator, Craig, is haunted by the ghosts of two children.

Craig, a young Scots student, is working as a lifeguard at a summer holiday camp. Macleod is a master of graphic detail and gives a vivid rendition of the ritual of Craig’s day, the sense of claustrophobia in the tower besieged by wasps, the freedom of the sea, the atmosphere of playfulness on the beach, his German colleagues’ sense of humour. He also, very slowly and deliberately , creates a mounting tension.  You know from the start that by the end of the day two children will die – but you don’t know which two, or how or why. The details of the setting and the suggestion of menace are extremely well-crafted, but then the novel takes a sudden swerve into another story, that of East German Gerd, who was recruited by the Stasi.

In the first section Craig gives us a tense account of his grandfather’s experiences during World War 2 when, as a merchant seaman, he survived a torpedo attack from a German U-boat. This is harrowing stuff but justifiably included to illustrate the author’s theme and explain how, through a subsequent connection of his grandfather’s, Craig finds himself working in Germany. Gerd’s account of his recruitment makes gripping reading, like a Cold War thriller complete with horrific torture and disregard for life, but it doesn’t really cohere with the rest of the narrative.

All three stories consider the randomness of fate: of being in a particular place at a particular time, of trying to perform a duty and, almost by happenstance, falling short. Towards the end of the novel, a new character is introduced, whose only function appears to be to emphasise these points  and clarify the role of a tragic hero. When the rest of the writing is so compelling this episode seems intrusive and a little patronising.

There’s no doubt, however, that this is a highly ambitious literary novel, with a very strong sense of place and wonderfully detailed descriptions. Today the Baltic is as serene a destination as you will find, but The Incident is a reminder of a period when things were very different.

Thank you to Penny from Tina and the TripFiction Team. Click on the bookcovers of Penny's novels if you would like to find out more and to purchase. And if you would like to find more books set in and evocative of Germany, then click here 

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1 comment:

  1. Great review -- I'm not sure I've read a book set particularly on the Baltic -- fascinating! Will look for this one!