Stephen Rose is a father, a failed husband, an ashamed son, an ex-soldier and a recovering alcoholic. Having returned to his childhood home in the country he has been quietly trying to rebuild his life and relationship with his daughter when a letter arrives asking him to appear before an inquiry into the Troubles in Belfast. In seeking Truth this single sheet of paper has the power to unravel everything he has painstakingly achieved. To delay responding and too fragile to speak about it to his daughter Maggie he sets about writing her a letter to try and explain himself, how guilt and remorse have shaped his adult life. This letter/confession/apology frames the narrative.
Miller skilfully exposes the confusion of youth. Innocence dissolves before the dehumanising power of the army and how one horrific split second can come to define a life – the canker within the rose. Throughout the text bucolic and botanical imagery are at odds with competing passages depicting the squalor of alcoholism and moral decay, highlighting the complexities of being human. As do simple observations on silence, in a Quaker meeting it can heal, in rehab it can choke. Confusion and fear are dealt with the same elegant hand as love and compassion by Miller. This is a beautiful book.
While Stephen relates ‘the mind is not a box you can just empty out’ The Slowworm’s Song - Miller’s book of atonement, has unpacked a life. Cleverly employing its one sided confessional point of view it forces us to think on responsibility and how we shape our own memories.
Our pick for the Booker shortlist
By the Costa Award-winning author of PURE, a profound and tender tale of guilt, a search for atonement and the hard, uncertain work of loving. An ex-soldier and recovering alcoholic living quietly in Somerset, Stephen Rose has just begun to form a bond with the daughter he barely knows when he receives a summons - to an inquiry into an incident during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. It is the return of what Stephen hoped he had outdistanced. Above all, to testify would jeopardize the fragile relationship with his daughter. And if he loses her, he loses everything. Instead, he decides to write her an account of his life; a confession, a defense, a love letter. Also a means of buying time. But time is running out, and the day comes when he must face again what happened in that faraway summer of 1982
'Beautifully written' Pitch-perfect The plot grips and surprises. Miller's prose remains poetic and taut with an eye for the telling detail . . . this is fiction - storytelling - at its best - Spectator
Excellent - Observer
Written in prose that comes singing off the page . . . a compelling read and an important literary achievement - New Statesman
Enthralling - Financial Times
The pacing of his story is excellent; his style is crisp; his apprehension of pain is arresting; and his ability to show people trembling at the edge of unreason is compelling - Guardian