Hey Nostradamus is the story of absence, told by a quartet of characters. It’s direct, chilling and full of yearning, and will relentlessly bum you out if you’re feeling down.
It’s interesting – while I recall Microserfs as being both grim and amusing, this title is mostly grim. There’s some beautiful turns of phrase, though – some crystal-clear moments of almost theological brilliance. Fitting, I suppose, as one of the characters (paterfamilias Reg) is as pursed-lips holy-roller as you’ve seen in print. His section of the book – the last – is in particular filled with a sort of quiet beauty.
Religion looms large through the text. Without spoiling too much, the story of a school shooting (and its effect on the four narrating characters, whether immediate or years-on) is the book’s epicentre. It’s where the emotional waves begin, and the role of faith – and what to do when it’s lost – is key. The loneliness of life – after death or disappearance or loss of principles and pride – is skewered here, almost painfully so. The violence and random nature of life – and of how cruel even the best intentions may be – is conveyed in a breathtakingly accurate way.
And yet, I can’t give this a higher mark. While the subject matter is deeply evocative, there’s some narrative kludges which – while they do provide tension and some payoff later – seem very clumsy, and take the reader out of the story.
This is a great one-sitting read, though, and as far as literature about school shootings and grief go, it’s golden. There’s some fine writing on religion and its struggles; just don’t read it if you’re drinking at home, alone.