2014: And The Winner Is...

on Wednesday, December 31, 2014

This time last year, while most people were getting drunk and waiting for fireworks to light up the night sky, I was sitting at home, on my couch, with a copy of Jesse Ball's Silence Once Begun on my lap. It was an exercise in self-control, nay self-abnegation, unprecedented in my 37 years (mainly because I've never bothered to delay gratification in the past). There was, however, method to my madness. Although the novel was not scheduled to be released for another month and, moreover, I had received my copy three weeks before, I knew that if I read it before the strike of twelve on the first of January I would have to count it as a book read in 2013. Which meant it would miss out on this year's list if it proved to be as good as I was hoping. I've made no secret of my love for Ball. He is the most exciting young writer at work today. His previous novel, The Curfew, was my Book of 2011. Now signed on with a big publisher (or at least an imprint thereof) and with his first work in hardcover, there was a hell of a lot riding on Silence Once Begun.

Cue past the countdown, the clock chimed twelve, and I cracked open the cover. And read. And read. And read. Until the sun rose and I closed the book in a state of transcendental bliss. Not only had Ball delivered, but he had done so in spectacular fashion. This story of a man who confesses to a series of disappearances then remains totally silent throughout his arrest, trial and execution is brilliantly conceived and flawlessly executed. It might seem absurd but absurdity is Ball's stock-in-trade. He makes dreamscapes seem totally normal and the further he leads us down the rabbit hole the more we become willing to give ourselves over to him. Testing the limits of reliability, the voices in Silence Once Begun resonate with utter conviction and persuasiveness so that, by the end, we know very little other than that Oda Sotatsu is innocent and the crimes were not even what they seemed. We are left to shake our fists at a system that runs on its own steam towards the destruction of anyone who slips among the cogs.

Silence Once Begun is, in my opinion, a watershed moment not only in Ball's career but in contemporary literature. I posed the question in my initial review: Is it possible that I read the best book of 2014 on the very first day of the year? The answer is yes. A very resounding yes.


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