The Nearest Faraway Place is as its blurb says ‘a powerfully told story of the love between two brothers in the aftermath of a family tragedy’. Dylan and Griff loose both their parents in a car crash. The story is well narrated by elder brother, Dylan—named for Dylan Thomas, the poet. We follow the boys’ journey from New York to Wales and we find out, through flashbacks, all about their peripatetic childhood, which moved them over the world as their parents took different teaching jobs.
The book has an exotic feel and is also beautifully immersed in the ordinary details of life. Music, poetry, people: all matter. Friendships and relationships matter, and there’s a real spirit of kindness and generosity in the characters Dylan and Griff encounter as they process their grief.
But be warned. Two thirds of the way through, the novel suddenly has a dramatic and unforeseen plot twist which will either delight readers, or leave them feeling manipulated. There is almost no foreshadowing of the twist at all, and it sent me back to the beginning, to re-read word by word, to see where I had been lulled or mislead into my understanding of events.
The book, however, redeemed itself though its sympathetic characters and its realistic portrayal of the challenges and unremitting ordinariness of life—material that in Hayley Long’s hands became redemptive and meaningful. This is a book to recommend, not least to see what it provokes in different readers.