Reviewed by Susan Osborne
New Zealand writer Peter Walker’s third novel is surprisingly slim given the amount of ground it covers, taking its central characters from their heady student days in 1967 to their more sober late middle age in 2010, while managing to explore the global political upheavals that shake their and all our worlds in between. Its structure is one that I find attractive: following a core set of characters – friends whose lives intersect throughout the years – and tracing their development.
It opens with a prologue, a visit to Morgan Tawhai’s grave in 2010. The visitors turn out to be a disparate group and not the characters we will become familiar with apart from Radzimierz Radzienwicz, who we’ll come to know as Race, and Fitzgerald who flits in and out of Race’s life. Indeed, the most significant character is Morgan: bright, maverick and dead at twenty, Morgan is the one who will throw a shadow over Race’s life, the friend he and his group will always remember, wonder what he might have become and perhaps feel a little guilt. Their friendship begins in 1967. The New Zealand government is being asked to send more troops to Vietnam by a visiting Pentagon official. Race, Fitzgerald, Candy, Chadwick – himself an American – and Morgan are preparing a protest. Young and idealistic they want no part in this pointless war. They do what students do – fall in love, party, indulge in various substances and pontificate about what’s going on in the world. Two years later, Morgan is dead. leaving the group a little more grown up than they were. We catch up with them in 2001, just after the fall of the Twin Towers, when Race’s son Toby steps into the frame taking centre stage. In 2004 we’re taken to Beirut for Toby’s sister’s wedding then we’re back full circle to Morgan’s grave and the group’s 2010 visit, complete with Toby and his wife. Throughout it all Morgan is a constant presence, frozen in youth while his friends age and change.
Walker’s time as the Foreign Editor at the Independent on Sunday, where he worked for several years, shines through this novel. It’s as much about the seismic shifts that have shaped our worlds over the past forty years – both as individuals and as citizens – as it is about the friends themselves. Bernard, Toby’s nonagenarian step-grandfather, is known to have engaged in a little information gathering in the Cold War years on his professional visits to Russia. We see post-9/11 events through the eyes of Chadwick, now serving in the US State Department. Occasionally this can be at a little strained – Gilly’s marriage is in Beirut where we explore the Middle East conflict just as the scandal of Abu Ghraib breaks, although we find out little about Gilly herself. That said, Walker’s characters are engaging and if, like me, you’re a news junkie his thoughtful analysis makes the novel well worth reading. In that well worn phrase from the 1960s, the personal is political – and it really is.
Susan blogs at A Life in Books. Never, ever leave home without a book
Peter Walker, Some Here Among Us, (Bloomsbury Circus: London, 2014) 9781408856673, 274 pp., hardback.
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