MacLehose Press

The Guard: Is It Science Fiction?

It is a question that vexes many, not least on the annual “Why aren’t science fiction novels eligible for Booker Prize?” comment threads on the Guardian. Where there are apocalypses and the like, where do you draw the line between genre and literary fiction?

Peter Terrin does not think of himself as a science fiction author, and is not considered to be one in his native Belgium. He started to write after reading a novel by the great (great, great, great – a serious must-read author) W.F. Hermans (I think it was the Darkroom of Damocles); he was Belgium’s winner of the last European Union Prize for Literature and The Guard was nominated for the Libris Prize.

But he was very happy to be see the amazing reviews that his first novel in English translation has received from the dedicated SciFi press – and who wouldn’t be?

The Guard received 4 1/2 stars from SFX magazine:

If the author of this book was a murderer he’d neatly roll his victims in sheets of clear plastic and stack them in a row beneath his own floorboards. And should he ever be arrested, which would be most unlikely, his neighbours would express surprise and say how polite and gentle he seemed, and then go inside to their own houses and shiver, as they thought back, and wondered if he’d ever looked at the world with the same eyes as them.

There’s a cold and beautiful precision to Peter Terrin’s writing, and a remorseless and finally terrifying accretion of detail that begins by seeming fussy and ends by being unsettling. Everything is suggestion, his words flow with a cold finality, and it works. In a Europe where the gap between the rich and the rest of us is getting wider and politicians work for corporate masters, this parable is enough to send a shiver down your spine

And 4 stars from SciFiNow:

Told only through the eyes of Michel, The Guard is a superbly written – translated from the Dutch – descent into the ever-lighter confines of a mind falling inexorably into a dark, bottomless and inescapable pit of paranoid delusion.

Terrin refuses to give any kind of timescale to the short, staccato sentences that make up the whole; a mechanic that accentuates Michel’s rattling psyche and which leads us to the draw our own conclusions as to what is happening, when it’s happening and how much of it is real. It this sounds like some kind of reader purgatory, that’s because it sort of is.

But The Guard is a dazzling work. Paranoid fiction is rather more like horror than any other genre in that it concerns itself with a primary chemical emotion. While most of us enjoy feeling a little scared from time to time, we can’t say the same for the discomfiture of profound paranoia. The Guard is so good, its world so minutely described and Michel so undeniably compelling that to suggest anything other than to pick this up and read it immediately would be to do it a disservice.

And 8 stars in Starburst:

The Guard is the first of Peter Terrin’s books translated for an English audience and, boy, is it a good one.

Terrin wastes no time sucking the audience into the narrative, giving you enough dialogue and character to keep your interest yet still keeping his cards close to his chest. This is even more impressive when you consider that around four fifths of the novel takes place in the same semi-confined location. Dure to restricted nature of the location and plot and the steady drip feed of questions, The Guard is certainly a book to be read in one sitting. But believe us when we say that this won’t be problem, as when you get past the first few pages you simply won’t want to put the book down until you find out exactly what’s going on.”

The Guard is available in hardback . . .

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