Forethoughts: Today by David Miller

What you will to begin to see now on RobAroundBooks over next the few weeks is a targeting of specific books which are linked to this year’s Edinburgh Book Festival, or to be more precise the events that I’m attending during the month of August.

You see, if I’m going to see an author ‘in the flesh’ then I like to have read something of their work beforehand, especially if they are going to be talking about that work. And one of the authors I’m going to see in August is London-based David Miller, who comes to EdBookFest with his debut novel, Today (Atlantic Books). As Miller’s novel is a debut one, his event forms part of the Newton First Book Award series, with the novel itself being nominated for the Newton First Book Award (an obvious statement to make perhaps, but not all authors participating in Newton First Book Award events are debut authors).

Now, as you and I know, not a lot of people have much time for debut novels. It seems that they’re mainly afraid to take a risk on somebody new and unknown, but as regulars of RobAroundBooks know, I love to eagerly embrace them. There is something about the mystery of a debut novel which always juices me. Aside from the fact that I think an author pours everything into a debut (which can be a good or a bad thing), it’s down to the possibility that I may discover something extraordinary in an unexpected place; a shiny new author to permanently add to my ‘love list’ (which sounds way creepier than it’s meant to :))

Anyway, I digress and we must move on. Just take it as gospel OK, that I have a bit of a soft spot for debut novelists :). Right, with that fact established let’s have a quick first look at Today, starting with the cover blurb:

August 1924. John Conrad arrives at his parents’ country home on the outskirts of Canterbury to celebrate his birthday, where family and friends are also assembling for the last bank holiday weekend that year. His crippled mother has been discharged from a nursing home, his brother drives down from London with his wife and their new-born son. But as these and other guests converge, John’s father collapses.

Now that’s the cover blurb in essence. I’ve not bothered to quote all of it because to be honest the remainder of it looks a bit ‘spoilerish’, so best I leave it at that (if you want to read the rest of the synopsis then it is available in its entirety on the publisher’s product page). So what do I think? Well, first off it sounds like a very English novel doesn’t it? Country homes on the outskirts of Canterbury. A brother driving down from London. Bank holidays. All that’s missing is cream teas on the lawn (but I’m betting that for this lot, cream tea ‘slap-ups’ are a daily thing, especially with that crippled mother coming on the scene after being discharged from a nursing home).

And family get-togethers eh? They’re always tense, ‘can of worm’ affairs aren’t they? So you just know that this bank holiday get together is going to be a bit explosive, especially with them all congregating in an out-of-the-way country residence (my mind’s actually drifting towards Cluedo here but I’m reeling it back in).

Hang on a minute, putting aside the most glaring ‘highlight’ in the blurb for a minute (the one about the father collapsing) let’s roll back a little. Why on earth is a crippled mother being discharged from a nursing home? Is she on her last legs (an idiom that doesn’t really work here, given her disability :))? Has she fallen out with the nursing staff? Can the family not pay her residency bills any more? Has she been temporarily housed, locked away like a dog at the kennels while the rest of the family jetted off (I say ‘jetted off’ but I well aware that its the 1920s :)), to sunnier climes? The mind boggles it really does, but nevertheless it’s an interesting observation to make because I’ve a feeling there’s more to this than meets the eye (although in reality I’m probably reading way more into it than I should be).

Now, to what looks to be the real ‘kill switch’ to the success and happiness of Mr. Conrad’s birthday celebration soiree – the father collapsing. I could impress you here and say that this event will have a far reaching affect on those gathered but it’s pretty obvious that such an event would have, and anyway it says so further on in the blurb that it does :). So, not the best of parties for poor old Mr. Conrad Snr. but for the rest of us – if you’re heart is as dark as mine – it’s entertainment all the way.

This is the point in my forethoughts then, when I usually tell you something about the author, but truth be told – as is often the case with debut authors – I know very little about him. The cover tells us that David Miller was born in Edinburgh and that he was educated in Canterbury and Cambridge, and although this is his debut novel, he’s certainly no stranger to the world of literature, and specifically in the production of it. His wife is the writer Kate Colquhoun, and he himself is director of literary agency Rogers, Coleridge & White. That all sounds promising enough I’m sure you’ll agree, but really, that’s all I know about the fella at this point.

So in summing up, what do I think this novel is going to be? Well, I have absolutely no idea where the story is going to take me but I think Today is going to be a tense and claustrophobic affair (even more so given it’s rather short length), where a family end up being at one another’s throats as they fling blame and accusation at one another. I also get a sense, because of its presentation and the pitch in which the blurb is written, that this novel is going to be something of a literary affair (and not just because the cover resembles Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty), which I’m absolutely delighted about, of course. And all of this set in 1920s rural England too? I can hardly wait.

As I said, Today is rather short in length so I don’t envisage it taking me too long to get through this one. I’ll pass on incidental comments on Twitter, and if I have time, through the pages of my Reading Journal. I’ll be back as soon as I’m done to let you know how the novel worked out, and why that stupid old woman (I’m assuming), ended up being discharged from the nursing home :).

David Miller will be appearing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, in a Newton First Book Award event with Dan Vyleta, on Wednesday 17th 8:30pm – 9:30pm. For ticket information and booking, please visit the event page on the EdBookFest website.

Atlantic Books | March 2011 | £12.99 | HARDBACK | 176 PP | ISBN: 9781848876057

A note about forethoughts
‘Forethoughts’ offer an insight into what my initial thoughts and impressions of a book are before I begin reading it. Informal, and largely written as a stream-of-consciousness exercise in a single sitting, my ‘forethoughts’ capture an important stage of the reading experience for me – the anticipatory period before the book is first opened, when my excitement is piqued for the reading experience which lies ahead.

Blissfully ignorant my ‘forethoughts’ may well be, but when combined with my eventual ‘afterthoughts’, the result is a unique and comprehensive record of a very personal literary ‘journey’ through a particular book; a literary journey which will hopefully be of some value to other readers.

About Rob

Rob, a self-confessed bibliophile, is without any hope of rehabilitation. He gets unnaturally excited over anything book-shaped, and if book sniffing were a crime then he would have been locked up years ago (which wouldn't bother him in the slightest provided his cell was lined with books)