I watched some of Les Revenants (The Returned) when it was screened in the UK recently. It was very good: atmospheric, beautifully filmed, great story. So when I saw The Returned, the debut novel by Jason Mott, I had to read it.
This book has many similarities to the TV series – the dead return to life which has a devastating effect on the people they had left behind – but the story Mott tells us has a very different emphasis and theme.
Arcadia is a quiet, typical southern town. Everyone knows everyone and is related to the majority of their fellow townsfolk. So when the dead start to return, the town doesn’t handle it at all well. The story centres around an old couple, Harold & Lucille whose son Jacob was drowned some 50 years before. When Jacob is returned to them by Agent Bellamy, one of the suited men employed by the government to manage the phenomenon, each parent reacts in a very different way. Lucille immediately embraces the young lad as her son; Howard thinks that whatever Jacob is, being his real son isn’t it. They watch with morbid fascination as the TV news reports on the way the returned are welcomed – or not – across the world. But soon the sheer number of returned in Arcadia forces the government to take action and the sleepy town is remade as a detention centre.
Mott examines the strength of relationships – do they survive death and rebirth? Would you leave your current wife for your first love? Does the age gap between the returned and their loved ones matter? He also seems to draw some parallels between the handling of the returned and the pogrom of the Jews in the 20th century.
This is a book to make you think, but far from being heavy or worthy. Mott writes beautifully, his prose light, descriptive, and with just the right amount of detail to bring the settings and characters to life. I loved Harold and Lucille. They were interesting and highly likable characters and brilliantly drawn by the author. We never really get to know Jacob or any of the returned and I think this was exactly the right decision by the author. He lets them retain an air of mystery and otherworldliness which keeps their stories at a distance so we become more fully immersed in the lives of the ‘true living.’
I enjoyed this book so much I found myself turning the pages and reading ‘just one more chapter’ into the wee small hours over three evenings. Highly recommended.