The Guard by Peter Terrin (tr. David Colmer)

The Guard by Peter Terrin | MacLehose Press, 2015

The Guard by Peter Terrin is translated from the dutch by David Colmer centerting on two security guards, Harry and Michel, who are stationed in a high security apartment building offering hotel-like services to the wealth and the elite. One day the residents, seemingly all but one, leave almost en masse leaving Harry and Michel to their lonely posts. I knew nothing about this novel going in but its jacket flap hinted at something a bit post-apocalyptic so I decided to give it a shot. The story unfolds across numerous short chapters, sometimes less than a couple of a paragraphs, as both Harry and Michel ruminate on their position, on the possibility of promotion, and very rarely on the residents of their strange charge.

The Guard is a novel where not a lot happens. It is the kind of novel that when I was I done I wasn’t quite sure what it was exactly that I had read. Its short chapters and meandering borderline non-existent plot left me wondering if something isn’t lost in translation. I keep wondering if there isn’t some sort of overarching message to the novel that I can’t quite pin my finger on. With the majority of the novel having taken place within the confines of Harry and Michel’s guard post in a concrete parking basement it feels strange to say that when things move away from that setting the novel loses a little steam. Part of the reason behind that is that my own frustration with the novel’s meandering and lack of answers arrived just around the same time as the characters’ own frustration with being stuck in that garage. Unfortunately, Harry and Michel’s escape didn’t really seem to solve the problem for me and the confusing journey up the tower left me feeling more confused than ever.

Terrin’s writing and Colmer’s translation is engaging even during its most mundane moments. In fact the rote nature of Harry and Michel’s day-to-day lives enhances the novels surreal quality particularly when things start to go a little haywire. Truth of the matter is by the time the novel was over I wasn’t entirely sure that Harry existed. I can’t say with any certainty that I’m write but the completely contrary nature of Harry’s and Michel’s personalities reminded me a bit of the dual nature of Tyler Durden/Jack. I’m most certainly wrong in this instance but there is such a dream-like quality towards the latter half of the novel that I can’t be one hundred percent certain. The novel’s conclusion as ultimately unsatisfying though not outright infuriating. The Guard is likely to be a divisive novel for many but one that might be worth look at for readers looking for something a bit off the beaten path.

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