It is late summer 2008 and, as the world economy goes into meltdown, forty-year-old Salinger Nash, plagued since adolescence by a mercurial depression, leaves the London house he shares with his girlfriend, Tiane, for his older brother’s home in the Garden District of New Orleans. Carson Nash has persuaded Salinger that they should find their missing father, Henry- last known location Las Cruces, New Mexico. But it is with a sense of foreboding that Salinger sets off with his brother.
Painfully aware that their own relationship is distant and strained, will dragging up the past and confronting their father going to help or harm them? Meanwhile back in London, Tiane isn’t answering Salinger’s increasingly urgent messages. Why? Tender, funny, unflinching, this is a road trip story in the great American literary tradition and an exploration of sibling rivalry that harks back to Cain and Abel. A vivid glimpse of a Britain’s ‘brother country’ through the eyes of a sceptical outsider, a profound exploration of fraternal love and a gripping journey of the soul.
What makes Under the Same Stars so good is Lott’s characterisation. The story meanders along at a slow pace and occasionally springs up small plot points that build a cohesive story. But, you could remove any fragments of narrative and you would still hold a great novel in your hands – one that depicts the struggles of modern families and sums up what makes us human. Under the Same Stars is a book about what tears us apart and whether we can ever come together again.
The two brothers, Salinger and Carson, are estranged and rarely talk to one another. It takes some time before the book opens up and delves into why these two siblings have drifted apart but their relationship is written with a wonderful preciseness. Each small conversation is littered with banter that holds an underlying menace and venom. They love each other but it seems grudgingly so.
There are other menaces along the way; too, such as Salinger’s battles with depression, Carson’s barely suppressed anger and a suspicious photograph. The photograph is a vital plot point and I don’t want to say too much about it, but I do want to mention Salinger’s depression. I have to say the way Tim Lott handles depression and mental health is brilliant. Salinger’s moods are shown in just the way they are felt and really give the reader a sense of how it feels to live with depression on a daily basis. The inner thoughts build a very brooding picture of Salinger’s life but also offer glimpses of hope to both Lott’s character and parts of the audience.
All in all it can be a rather bleak book as we watch the brothers’ constant back and forth and their conflicting views on the father that ran out on them. Carson relies far too heavily on his sudden turn towards Christian beliefs and lives a false life where he forever buries the hurt in his life. Salinger is a polar opposite and revels in misery, telling it how it is. And when we finally meet their dad towards the end, we can see just why these characters act the way they do.
Throughout the gloom, however, is some light. Lott’s skill with humour is a welcome addition. If it weren’t for the road cop that appears midway through, the book would have been a very sombre read. The cop, Valentine, is oafish, prejudiced and offensive but he delivers his lines with absolute bravado and cushions the gloom of the brothers.
Under the Same Stars is a great book and one that doesn’t follow tried and tested formulas. The ending is a complete surprise and it teaches various lessons about faith in all its forms. The book is very slow to start and sometimes relies a little too much on plot points that appear from nowhere (such as a surprise from Tiane, Salinger’s girlfriend, towards the tail end of the book) but regardless it’s a fantastic journey. Some readers may take away more than others, especially if you can relate to the central characters. I really enjoyed the book and would be very interested in reading over some of Tim Lott’s older works.
Published by Simon and Schuster. This book was kindly sent from the publisher.