Hey everyone, today I’m reviewing Peter Newman’s debut novel The Vagrant. I’m really excited to announce that I am now a contributor for The Nerd Daily! I will hopefully be writing various articles and reviews for them over the coming months. I just wanted to write this quick intro to this review as the tone is slightly different to the one I’d use for reviews that were only going on my blog, plus this was a pretty hard novel to summarise!
Peter Newman’s debut novel The Vagrant follows multiple narratives within a newly war-torn land. We primarily follow the journey of the Vagrant, who is smuggling two very important items across the land, and the novel is also interspersed with extracts that take place between 8 -1 years before the main novel and provide some background on the war and our main character. I ended up giving it 4/5*.
Overall this novel is definitely unique, but the first few chapters were pretty confusing and for a while I thought I was going to give up on the book entirely. Background on the war and the various groups that had formed since was gradually given to the reader at a normal pace, so it took a little while to identify the issue. The Vagrant is a character who doesn’t speak, which is an extremely interesting attribute to give to a protagonist, but in addition to this we also get no internal monologue or thoughts from him. This can give the reader a sense of loss or lack of understanding, but this quickly comes once events and information fall into place and allows the reader to learn about the Vagrant and his character at the same pace as those around him.
One of the items that the Vagrant carries with him is an infant not yet capable of speech, so until others join their party the emotional connection between the child and Vagrant is emphasised. This lack of speech demonstrates how powerful speech can be, but also shows that without it connections can still be built. The interactions between the two still melted my heart even though it purely relied on external behaviour. The lack of commentary also served the novel rather well in that it put him in the position of being an omniscient narrator. This meant that it took longer to get a grasp on the story but was ultimately more rewarding.
Particularly in the earlier half of the novel, the flashbacks to the past were my favourite parts – the characters present in these were given more personality and back story than our main characters, but gradually this personality and connection trickled through to the main narrative. I realise that until this point I’ve made this novel sound like hard work to get through, but once you push through the initial confusion, and are willing to pick up information in other ways this novel becomes extremely fun and interesting.
Another one of my favourite things was one of the first group of characters we come across, who end up adding a man named Harm to the Vagrant’s journey. Due to the inability of the other two characters to communicate through speech, Harm often speaks aloud his own thoughts, but also those that he believes the Vagrant is having, and as the two spend more time together we learn more about our protagonist this way. And of course, the interactions of the pair of older men with the infant was constantly pulling at my heart strings. The bond between these characters is immensely powerful and I ended up having strong emotions in response to events that affected them.
One thing that stood out to me when learning about him were the morals of the Vagrant. Even when I thought he was doing something morally wrong, we would learn not long after that the Vagrant had some explanation for his actions. The English Literature student side of me can’t help but wonder who is narrating the novel; we can’t be seeing things through the eyes of the Vagrant because he gives us little information to work with, but there are no other candidates for narrator. Although you get the impression throughout the novel that the Vagrant and his growing group of friends are definitely on the side of good, it is unclear how much unconscious bias the narrative holds, and how reliable the version of events we are given is.
This novel is definitely a difficult one to capture in a summary or review without spoiling anything, and the best way to get a sense of it is to read it for yourself. Interactions with various “evil” characters force the reader to constantly re-evaluate what they know and think about certain types of creatures in the novel. Ultimately, The Vagrant is a fun and engaging story that takes a while to get into, and challenges the reader, but is a rewarding and unique read. I went from considering DNFing it after the first few chapters to immediately buying the sequel as soon as I was finished!
Was there a book you struggled with in the beginning but found rewarding and enjoyed it once you got to the end? Please share in the comments :)