by Jeremy Worman

Cinnamon Press
First Collection

"These were Home Counties secrets, hidden where no social worker would dare to pry. "

Reviewed by Mithran Somasundrum

Fragmented is a novel not so much in stories as in shards. It's as though the life of the narrator - Simon Carver - is a broken mirror which has been only partly reassembled. There are large gaps between the fragments, but we can see just enough to gain an idea of his reflection.

The first section of the book, Openings, gives us the structure of the life to follow, the narrator's fraught relationship with his mother - affectionate when sober, viciously abusive when drunk - the squats and the soft drugs of his early twenties, the yearning to write. From there we move fully into the 1970s and see his peripatetic squatter's existence in more detail.

Again, the stories come to us as fragments. The sequence begins with Carver in Wales with no information as to how he got there. We only know that soon he will be back in London, living in Hornsey Rise, the largest squat in Europe. It's 1975 by now and there is very little of the 1960s' idealism left. The squat's inhabitants take up Marxist or feminist poses, but their main interest is their own survival, and Carver ends up living at the edges of other peoples' crimes.

From here, the book's third section drops straight into the 1990s and there's a sense of vertigo induced by the fall. Suddenly we're in the modern world of baggy jeans and Nike T-shirts. Carver is still living in Hackney, only now he's teaching English at Birbeck College to occasionally arrogant American students. This section deals with his beginnings as a writer: listening to storm drains for inspiration ("the splashing of a thousand dark fountains"), trying to write poetry in a South Bank library and feeling his poems offer no answer to the City's money-throb ("Poets are like an army of Quakers, sincere but impotent"). Meanwhile the life of Hackney goes on around him, the immigrants and the BNP supporters and the evangelist tents set out on London Fields.

Then suddenly there's a drop of ten more years, and we find Carver happily married and bringing up his daughter. It should be a closure of sorts, and yet he seems almost beached, a piece of flotsam washed up from his own past. He muses of the history of the Thames barrier, visits Abney Park cemetery, St John's churchyard in Hackney and its restored memorials. There is a sense through all of this that he wants something from London's history, but doesn't know what. The fragment dealing with St John's is called Spring-Cleaning the Ghosts, but these ghosts are the wrong ones. It's only in the book's final section, Beginnings, that Carver realises it's his own ghosts he must confront, and on a winter's night in Hackney, sitting out in his garden in a deckchair, he comes face to face with both his demons and his demons' demons.

Reading Fragmented you find yourself wondering how it would have worked as a straightforward novel, with all of the broken shards replaced. It might even have been easier to write that way, but it's possible Jeremy Worman wanted a structure which matched his protagonist, whose memories are as fractured as these stories, who must reach across his past to piece himself together, and in doing so, suggest to us the parts of his life we don't witness. The book is fragmented but, by the end of it, we see a life that's whole.

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Mithran Somasundrum was born in Colombo, grew up in London and currently lives and works in Bangkok. He has published short fiction in Natural Bridge, The Sun, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, The Minnesota Review, Zahir and GUD among others.
Mithran's other Short Reviews: "Best American Mystery Stories 2007"

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Jeremy Worman has degrees in English from London University and Cambridge University. He has reviewed for The Observer, The Sunday Telegraph, The Spectator, New Statesman and the TLS. He won the 2009 Cinnamon Press short story competition and the 2002 Waterstones/Multi-Storey competition.

Read an interview with Jeremy Worman