Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Book review : Tomorrow Pamplona - Jan Van Mersbergen

Tomorrow Pamplona is a literary road-movie that at times reminded me of the iconic film Thelma & Louise, with male protagonists in the starring roles. It follows the inner turmoil of two men, thrown together by chance, as they drive down across Holland and France to the Spanish town of Pamplona. Middle-aged father-of-two Robert takes a week out of his tedious, humdrum life every year to participate in the annual bull running festivities. Danny, a young boxer, has never been before but he also needs to get away from his life in Holland for a while, so when he hitches a ride with Robert, he decides to stay with him all the way to Spain.

Pamplona represents many things, particularly to Robert - excitement, danger, an adrenalin rush, a chance to feel mortal, a way of clearing your mind of absolutely everything except pure survival instinct, even penitence. For Danny, it represents a chance to escape, albeit briefly, but what is he running from and why?

The whole book centres around the notion of fight or flight. As a boxer, Danny is hardwired to stand his ground and fight, yet he has decided to take flight from whatever has happened back home. Robert, as a father and husband, shouldn't have any need to take flight but he obviously feels imprisoned by his claustrophobic home life, just as both men and indeed the narrative seem enclosed and compressed in the cramped space of the car as it races down the endless miles of motorway to Pamplona. At first reluctant to talk, Danny does start to open up about his predicament and the narrative switches repeatedly from the present to the recent past, fillling us in on his story of impossible and almost obsessive love and its consequences. When they finally arrive in Pamplona, the fight or flight dilemma again comes to the fore with each man facing his destiny and his demons when the bulls are released. 

As with all the other Pereine Press novellas that I have read, Tomorrow Pamplona is a pensive, understated read that leaves the reader to connect the dots by himself. It makes up in description and characterisation what it lacks in pace and action. I could really empathise with both of the main characters, despite their obvious personality flaws, and I found myself genuinely caring about what happened to them when they returned to their real, everyday lives in Holland.

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £8.99

  • Paperback: 180 pages
  • Publisher: Peirene Press Ltd (6 Jun. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0956284043
  • ISBN-13: 978-0956284044
  • Product Dimensions: 12 x 1.7 x 19.5 cm

Disclosure : I received a review copy.

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