If you like horror and misery you’ll like Loss of Separation, by Conrad Williams. It is well written with a strong presentation so that you feel like you are really in the middle of the hero’s awful life. I recommend it if you like this sort of thing.
“Loss of Separation” is an aviation term referring to those times when two planes do not keep their distance from each other and so there is a danger of a collision. Paul Roan was a pilot and, due to his negligence, his flight was involved in a loss of separation incident. Although a collision was avoided, he was disciplined. This near miss continues to haunt him with horrific visions. As a result, Paul has decided to stop flying and, with his girlfriend, Tamara, he has bought a B&B in a small village on the English coast.
Soon after arriving in the village he is struck by a car in a hit-and-run accident and only survives because the doctors go to heroic efforts to rebuild his body whilst he is in a coma. After six months he wakes from the coma into a world of pain where his girlfriend has left him whilst he was unconscious. He now shares a house in misery with a nurse, Ruth, where he continues to experience flashbacks of an imagined airplane crash.
Then we discover Tamara’s terrible secret and the story really begins.
The setting of the story is a depressing beach-side resort in winter, with people anonymously passing boxes of personal items to Paul for him to destroy. In addition, there are missing children and further dark goings on and so the scene is set for the mystery and horror that is Paul’s every day life.
Whilst the story is well written I found it hard to get into at first. A large fraction of the story describes Paul’s miserable life, almost wallowing in his despair and frustration. Eventually, some mystery does appear when we learn Tamara’s secret and from there it slowly picks up until by the end it’s managing a good pace. And I would say that this slow start is the book’s only real weakness, for the grammar is good and the scenes are well described. Also, the underlying motivations of characters is confusing at times which adds to the dark complexity of the story.
Usually, at this point I identify the plot (see The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker) but this is another of those stories where I do not because it would spoil the mystery of the story to no particular purpose.
And now for the awards. I give it the following positive awards, which the author and publishers will probably like. Each award is out of five.
• Three Viper fighters for the interesting and very believable background on pilots and their world view.
• Two trips through a mysterious black monolith (there and back) for providing subtle clues rather than just spelling out every detail. This means the reader must think it through to fully understand what’s happening and how everything fits together.
I also give it the following award which the authors and publishers may not appreciate quite so much.
• One packet of soylent green for the miserable and slow start.
To summarise, Loss of Separation is a good example of a story of misery and horror. It is slow and self-indulgent, but still worth reading if you like misery and horror.