Published by Legend Times Group on February 2016
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Political
Peter Maguire has been kidnapped in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. He does not know where he is or what is going to happen to him. The journalist is filled with fear and, as the days go by, this dread of the unknown is shot through with remorse for the mistakes of his past. Peter's mother Nina comes to Somalia to wait for her son’s release. His plight forces her to relive another trauma—the fatal shooting in Liberia of Shaun Ridge, a young photographer she once loved, and Peter’s real father. Abdi, a Somali teenager working with Peter’s captors strikes a tenuous friendship with the prisoner based on a shared feeling of captivity. He decides to help Peter escape. Together they set off into the barren vastness of a land filled with danger. Three people must journey into one of the world's most dangerous places, the human mind, to answer the question: are we ever truly free?
I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Writing fiction around current or recent events can be problematic, especially those that may not get worldwide attention. Journalist, and now author Clar Ni Chonghaile, uses her experiences from her time in Somalia to create the hard-hitting, and emotional ‘Fractured’. But does her first-hand knowledge equate to good narrative, or hinder it?
‘Fractured’ consists of a three-way narrative between kidnap victim Peter, his mother Nina, and Abdi, the young man assigned as Peter’s guard and carer while he’s in activity, and each of them have very similar stories to tell. Naturally, as the main focus of ‘Fractured’ Peter’s tale takes centre stage, and it’s as visceral, tense, and violent as you can imagine. To distract himself from his pain, and the threat of imminent execution at the hands of terrorist group al Shabaab, Peter recalls his life and the mistakes that have littered it – of which there have been many. While held hostage he forms a fragile bond with the young man who brings him his food, Abdi. Having lost both his brother and father at the hands of terrorists, Abdi is disillusioned, scared, and desperate for change. Together, the two escape their own captivity, and make their way into the African desert night. Meanwhile, Nina is forced to confront her past as she fears history may repeat itself, and while she waits for news of her son, she reflects on her own failings as a wife and mother.
I’m going to be straight-up honest with you here: this is a *hard* book to read, and for me, to ultimately like. Clar Ni Chonghaile has a very dense writing style, and crams every word she can onto the page. With each of her three narratives, the story is told in the ‘now’ but tends to focus on retrospective flashbacks, often jumping back and forth several times a chapter. Think sudden ‘jump-cuts’ in tv drama and you get the picture. These flashbacks are often emotive, and in Nina’s case full of fact heavy info-dumps, often disturbing the flow of the story, making the plotting feel muddled and, at times, convoluted. In fact, Nina’s arc is the most problematic of all, especially as she’s truly hideous. Selfish, manipulative, and obnoxious, we’re supposed to empathise with both her plight and that of her son (who’s also a bit of an arse) yet I felt nothing for her bar contempt, and only slight empathy with Peter during his kidnapping ordeal -which is actually only two-thirds of the novel. Here are two people who, throughout their entire lives, have singularly put themselves before everyone else around them. Whilst they may well soul-search over the course of the story, realise their wrong-doings, and try to redeem themselves, I feel that Clar Ni Chonghaile wants us to like them, but for me, that was impossible.
The character of Abdi is the most sympathetic and well-rounded of the trio, as well as the most politically charged -if at times unrealistically so. Abdi’s timeline is full of truly harrowing events, but unlike the other two, it’s clear to see how they have influenced him and the decisions he makes. My only quibble is, as the political mouthpiece of the ‘Fractured’, Abdi’s internal monologues feel forced at times; whilst what he says is true, would a young man really be grandstanding his opinions in the dead of night, in the middle of the desert, while on the run from people who want to kill him? While that sort of scenario may work wonderfully on HBO (‘Fractured’ has been recommended for fans of shows such as ‘Homeland’) it feels shoe-horned in when it comes to the printed word. Abdi’s tale comes to an abrupt halt two-thirds in, as the rest of the novel focuses on Nina and Peter’s family issues and self-reflection, only reaching it’s conclusion towards the end. This was a shame, as I felt he had more story to tell, and it was infinitely more interesting.
One thing ‘Fractured’ has in spades is tension – you can cut the atmosphere with a knife in some scenes – and that’s truly Clar Ni Chonghaile’s strength throughout. You can feel the dark, dank conditions of Peter’s cell, the fear during shoot-outs, and the inadequacy of the hospitals and facilities. The author’s time as a journalist is put to great use here as she relates scenes impossible to imagine unless lived through, whilst avoiding the sensationalistic style so often utilised by writers in the action/thriller genre.
I’d be really interested to see where Clar Ni Chonghaile goes next with her novel writing, especially if she moves away from her own life experiences, as her talent with descriptive prose is undeniable.
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Reviewed as part of the Legend 100 Club.