About the Book
John Docherty’s mother has just been taken into a nursing home following a massive stroke and she’s unlikely to be able to live independently again.
With no other option than to sell the family home, John sets about packing up everything in the house. In sifting through the detritus of his family’s past he’s forced to revisit, and revise his childhood.
For in a box, in the attic, he finds undeniable truth that he had a brother who disappeared when he himself was only a toddler. A brother no one ever mentioned. A brother he knew absolutely nothing about. A discovery that sets John on a journey from which he may never recover.
For sometimes in that space where memory should reside there is nothing but silence, smoke and ash. And in the absence of truth, in the absence of a miracle, we turn to prayer. And to violence.
I finished reading In the Absence of Miracles a couple of weeks ago now and my review has been part-written ever since because I just don’t have the words to describe how this book made me feel. It was my first Michael J. Malone book but it absolutely definitely won’t be the last (I’ve already bought a couple of his other novels to read soon!).
In the Absence of Miracles follows John who is tasked with sorting out his mum’s belongings and getting her house, the house he grew up in, ready for sale. His mum recently had a bad stroke and is now in nursing home so thing needs to be sorted as there are care home bills to be paid. One day John finds a photo that he can’t quite make sense of and the repercussions of his quest to find the truth are devastating.
I picked this book up one afternoon intending to read a couple of chapters and the next thing I knew it was a few hours later and I was turning the final page. It’s a book that pulls you in from the very start with the mysterious photo and John’s journey to find the truth keeps you in its thrall to the very end (and beyond… it’s a novel that won’t yield its grip on me!).
There is so much I want to say about this book but at the same time I want readers to have the same experience of reading this book without knowing too much (in the way that I got to read it). I will say that Michael J. Malone’s exploration of finding out painful truths about your family’s history, of uncovering long buried hurt and harm is incredibly visceral and moving. I could really identify with parts of John’s story and I could see things in him that he couldn’t yet see in himself and this gave the novel so much tension that at times I was aware I was holding my breath.
In the early chapters of the book I felt such a connection to John and felt so sorry for him having to cope with his mother’s sudden stroke and then having to go through all of her things. I cared for my mum during her final illness and had to clear her house after her death and it’s such a hard thing to do. It’s exhausting, and your brain doesn’t seem to function properly anymore. I can’t imagine that whilst going through all of this finding a box of things that don’t fit with your memories of your family at all, and suddenly you have a million questions and no one to ask them of.
John is someone that struggles with expressing his emotions. He keeps his girlfriend at a remove and as patient as she is he just can’t bring himself to fully embrace the possibility of opening up to her and building a future together. I really felt for him because he clearly loves her but he just can’t let his guard down, as if he doesn’t want to risk being hurt. I was willing John on throughout this book as I wanted him to be truly happy but I was on edge the whole time that the truth was going to damage him beyond all repair.
There is such a lot in this novel, it really packs an emotional punch but everything that happens is necessary. I found the writing incredibly intense during the more emotional scenes and it was like nothing I’ve read before. Not a word is wasted in this book and I’m in awe of it. I don’t think I’ve ever read a domestic noir that has made me feel so many emotions – I cried reading this book, I felt angry at times and I mostly just wanted to reach into the pages and somehow make things different than they were.
In the Absence of Miracles is such a dark, disturbing and emotional novel but one that you just can’t put down. It looks at an issue that we so often turn away from in society but Malone tackles it in such a sensitive way without shying away from the reality of how people are affected. This is brave and stunning novel – one that everyone should read.
As I said at the start of this rambling review I’ve already bought some of the author’s other books and I can’t wait to read them. I’ll definitely be first in the queue to buy whatever he writes next. This book has jumped right into my top books of this year list, I highly recommend it!
Many thanks to the publisher for my copy of this book. All thoughts are my own.
In the Absence of Miracles is out now in ebook or available in paperback for pre-order here.
About the Author
Michael Malone is a prize-winning poet and author who was born and brought up in the heart of Burns’ country. He has published over 200 poems in literary magazines throughout the UK, including New Writing Scotland, Poetry Scotland and Markings. Blood Tears, his bestselling debut novel won the Pitlochry Prize from the Scottish Association of Writers. Other published work includes: Carnegie’s Call; A Taste for Malice; The Guillotine Choice; Beyond the Rage; The Bad Samaritanand Dog Fight. His psychological thriller, A Suitable Lie, was a number-one bestseller, and the critically acclaimed House of Spines and After He Died soon followed suit. A former Regional Sales Manager (Faber & Faber) he has also worked as an IFA and a bookseller. Michael lives in Ayr.
You can find the rest of this tour at the following blogs: