Ten Seconds From the Sun, by Russell Celyn Jones

Cry me a river for the pain of the past
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The Independent Culture

Protected by his new identity, Ray meets Lily and they embark on a relationship that, according to the law, should be disclosed to the probation service, just as Ray's past is required to be disclosed to Lily. Neither disclosure is made and Ray is caught in a rip tide of potentially tragic consequences.

Vulnerable on land, Ray only feels untouchable when on the water. Ray's mother-in-law, the formidably thorny Rose, observes that "the river is something you can never quite describe", but Ray's verbal snapshots convince: "a seminally unchanging mass with subliminal internal movements and minor disturbances". Watermen don't drive and Ray holds no licence of that sort, so he's only a passenger in Lily's car when it shunts into a gold-coloured SUV as they return from their children's school fête, the accident presaging a deadlier collision between past and present, one which Ray is powerless to prevent.

Celyn Jones evokes the elemental power of landscape, whether it's the dangerous "foul areas" of the lower Thames, the burning cliffs at Ray's adopted birthplace of Oystermouth, or the extreme isolation of Sheerness. Each plays a part in the evolving human story, which is devastating but never loses sight of the possibility of grace.

"If you can tell stories well, people tend to believe you," Tom assures Ray. Russell Celyn Jones has been doing just that since Soldiers and Innocents, a powerful debut, was published 15 years ago. Ten Seconds From the Sun, his sixth novel, is breathtakingly visceral and utterly compelling. The combination of the narrator's intimate, confessional approach, unsentimental yet profoundly moving, with the author's gift for narrative and swell of riverine detail, is a winning one.

Nicholas Royle's latest novel, 'Antwerp', is published by Serpent's Tail

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