Thursday 18 May 2023


Finished May 14
Harmless by James Grainger

This novel was deeply unsettling. Set on a remote farm in Ontario, a group of old friends have gathered together with their families for a long weekend. The oldest children, Franny and Rebecca, are in their teens, good friends themselves, but in a state of rebellion with their parents. The hosts for the weekend are Jane and Alex, with their kids Rebecca and Liam. Joseph has travelled up by train from the city with his daughter Franny (he's divorced from her mother Martha), Liz and Mike live in the nearby town, but are staying overnight with their kids to avoid driving after drinking, and Julian, who they haven't seen for years is coming with his younger lover, Amber. 
As the adults let themselves sink into the long weekend, eating, drinking, and indulging in some weed, most of them wander, at sunset, out further into the property, exploring the field and the nearby forest. When they return to the house, they discover the two girls aren't there, and they don't know where they are. As the initial search of the house and area proves unsuccessful, they split up, each relegated to following up a different potential path for the girls. 
When Joseph offers to search the woods, Alex says they he will go with him, and grabs his rifle. The two used to be close, but haven't been since Joseph's divorce. As the two fathers go off into the forest, the story follows them, as they encounter wildlife, old signs of previous habitation, and disturbing signs of how the world seems to be moving forward. It is their actions here that are at the heart of the novel, taking the reader to places that seem both unimaginable and yet only too possible. The men's reactions to what they encounter as they act to protect their families is disturbing and sad. This is a book that will stay with me for a while. 

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