Liam Bell’s latest novel, Man At Sea, is a graceful piece of writing which moves you almost imperceptibly as you read. The prologue sets the tone: moving between 1941 and 1961, we follow the stories of young Joe Zarb in wartime Malta and, 20 years on, nurse Beth Blanch and her former patient Stuart Mallinson.
Beth struggles to move on in her life, haunted by thoughts of her late husband Victor and unable to properly mourn as she can’t shake the feeling he may still be alive. She believes that meeting her stepson, the aforementioned Joe, may help her find answers to unknown questions. Stuart agrees to accompany Beth, as he also has unfinished business in Malta – looking to take vengeance on those he believes were involved with his plane catching fire and the terrible injuries he was left with as a result. But he has another reason: he wants to be with Beth, even if his feelings turn out to be unrequited.
Bell manages to get inside his characters as few do. He understands what motivates their actions, and relays that to readers in a recognisable and
very human way. As their situations change, so do their thoughts and beliefs; a mix of hopelessness and hope.
Man At Sea is about the often complex bonds between people, but is also about memories, and how loss and the passing of time can make them not only unreliable, but often damaging. It is a magnificently moody novel, but never miserable. It’s almost designed to make you reflect on your own past and reassess it, and interrogate the hold these memories may have over you. Bell’s previous novels, So It Is and The Busker, are both excellent reads, but this time round he has written something rather special.
Liam Bell’s Man At Sea is published with Fly on the Wall Press