A small world fractured in the wake of an untimely death
On a hungover Friday morning, Mike McEwan’s life of tea, pints, late mornings and the occasional essay comes to an abrupt halt. Consumed with guilt, grief and confusion, Mike haunts the ruins of St Andrews, rebuilding them in his mind and obsessing about the loss of someone he barely knew, unsure of his place in her life, or her death.
The discovery of an ancient plague burial site drags Mike back into contact with those around him. But life has changed, both for himself and others, and the burial ground holds more than the bones of those long dead.
Mike peels back the layers of earth and the darkness of its history and tries desperately to connect the victims of the past to the tumult of his present.
Student life around him continues at its own bizarre and drunken pace. Late-night parties, stolen golf carts and ridiculous drinking games go on for most as always. But others have been dragged in as well, and look on Mike with suspicion and rage.
As someone who studied in St Andrews, I was intrigued by the premise of a book set somewhere so familiar to me – so when Anne Cater invited me onto this blog tour, I couldn’t have said yes fast enough. Add that to the fact that I love books with a mystery at their heart and ones that draw me in from the very start with an intriguing premise – and it’s safe to say that I was really looking forward to Material Remains…
This book grabbed me and pulled me right into the story. I was really intrigued by the way that Mike dealt with Charlie going missing and the journey that he went on in exploring his reaction to her disappearance. At times, I felt like I was right back in St Andrews in the pub with Mike and his friends and I feel that this book has really captured that experience perfectly.
Richard Bray is an excellent writer – it’s hard to talk about this novel without spoilers, so I’ll just need to tell you that you must read it for yourself. You will be intrigued by the disappearance and want to know more about what is being hinted at beneath the surface and the mysterious connections with the burial grounds. You’ll definitely want to read on and find out exactly what has led to Charlie’s vanishing and how Mike will deal with this situation as student life continues around him despite his loss. It is an evocative read that will make you feel like you are there, walking up the scores and popping in for a pint with Mike and his fellow students.
I really liked the way that Material Remains asks us to look at events from an unusual perspective and re-see them, once we have a greater understanding of everything that Mike been through in order for us to reevaluate our understanding of what ‘the truth’ actually is. This was a much more intriguing read than I expected – I started off just being drawn in by the St Andrews link and even though it was great to reminisce about Raisin Weekend and high jinks on the beach, I really did begin to immerse myself in the story and enjoy the ideas that emerged through the many ‘deep and meaningful’ stories that these students were exchanging.
This isn’t just a straightforward thriller or mystery. Material Remains goes a little deeper than that and asks us to think about the way that time resonates with the present and the past and how our experiences of grief and loss will affect each and every one of us differently. The end of the novel makes us rethink again everything that we’ve discovered earlier and will leave you deep in thought at the end, for sure.
Anyone interested in history, Scotland and human emotions will love this novel. I had really high hopes for Material Remains and I’m delighted to say that I was definitely not disappointed. Even though this book touched on dark and difficult subject matters at times, it was dealt with very sensitively and Charlie’s disappearance wasn’t sensationalised or dealt with in a brutal or dismissive way.
Get yourself a copy here
Writer On The Shelf
Richard W H Bray is an award-winning author (and is a touch smug about this). When not making wine in south-west France he writes books and tries to work out how to move back to Scotland. His first book, Salt & Old Vines, was published by Unbound and you should buy that too.