Reviews: Belonging

BELONGING (Serpent’s Tail, 2006)

‘… a gripping read – a real page-turner’
The Guardian

‘On the cover of this slim but extraordinarily powerful novel Iain Banks, Irvine Welsh, Ian Rankin and Alan Warner all rave about Ron Butlin, and on this evidence it’s clear why. Belonging is a remarkable book, a seemingly simple tale of wanderlust told in precise, sparing prose, yet with a devastating emotional impact to rival much weightier and more-lauded tomes . . . Butlin expertly bring[s] his landscapes alive with incredible vivacity . . . a terrible psychological heart of darkness which is as terrifying as it is compelling. Harrowingly honest . . . this is a truly moving piece of work.’
Doug Johnstone in The List

‘An assuredly told but undeniably shocking tale, Belonging is a masterclass in how to portray deep emotion with seemingly simple prose . . . Butlin is much-touted by other authors, and here his use of description and dialogue is amazingly and deceptively powerful, as he examines with brutal frankness what it means to belong.’
The Big Issue

‘As a fast page-turner, Belonging is hard to beat . . . Lovers of fast-paced mysteries will find nothing lacking in Belonging. It takes the finest features of the suspense novel, and combines them with the 20-something metaphyics of Alan Warner. The result is both mesmerising and serious’
Scotland on Sunday

‘For all it is gripping, precipitous read, the writing a model of clarity and resonance, Belonging is a very odd book that haunts long after it’s done… It is an unusual and profundly pessimistic vision. The point is that, artistically, it convinces. We can live with it because of the quality of the writing, the flickers of wit, the tension and uncertainty’
The Independent

Excerpts from a review in the San Francisco Chronicle:

‘It’s a genuine page-turner, unpredictable and devoid of cliche. I read it in a single sitting . . . It’s a novel that works in insidious ways, telling the seemingly meandering story of an aimless young Scot, but trolling down to find the deeper, resonant connections that make the book seem emblematic of our latest “lost generation.” ‘. . .

[Belonging] constantly defying expectation and never failing to be compelling. But Butlin, who’s also a poet, playwright and librettist, is after something more expansive than the typical noir thriller . . It raises all kinds of issues about displacement, commitment, guilt, the desire to escape, the contamination of nature, the self-destructiveness of humans – while never once making any of these themes too explicit.

‘The writing is of a rare order. The poet in Butlin takes time to render many vivid passages – especially when Jack, hiding out in Spain, contemplates the beauty and brutality of nature – yet he never allows the pace to slacken ‘ . . .
The book inspires palpable dread, partly from a murderous turn of events, but mostly from the tension Butlin generates in a character torn between wanting to escape and wanting to belong at the same time. ‘. . .

Belonging is a hard book to categorize. It’s got mystery and murder, but it doesn’t fit any genre formulas. It stayed with me for weeks, its characters and ideas sneaking unexpectedly into overheard conversations and radio and newspaper reports.

‘Maybe it can be categorized: great book.’

Eddie Muller – The San Francisco Chronicle

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