Paul and Michael Buchanan are in hiding. Moving from highland village to highland village, the brothers are trying to avoid the press and police surrounding their home after Michael’s release from prison. Convicted of the murder of a little girl when he was a teenager, Michael relies heavily on Paul to source them food and supplies. But Paul is concerned for more than just his younger brother’s well-being, as Fallow slowly reveals that Michael might not the one you should be worried about, after all.
The debut novel from Daniel Shand, Fallow is narrated (wonderfully unreliably) by Paul, the older of the two Buchanan brothers. Following the brothers as they move from one wild scenario to another, it reads like the road trip from – and to – Hell. As a result, the book is deliciously uncomfortable, with echoes of Iain Banks in the (numerous) moments I had to stop reading for a while just to get away from Paul, his scattered thoughts, and terrible actions. It’s frustrating too, as Paul digs deeper and deeper holes for them both to fall into, dragging Michael along and blaming him all the way.
The truth is slow to come out in Fallow, as Paul’s control over his brother and his own thoughts begins to slip, and while readers try to work out exactly what happened to the little girl all those years ago, Shand injects plenty of dark humour into the, quite frankly, ridiculous proceedings. From face offs with the local butcher, to ancient rituals with American tourists, to joining a cult at the Gare Loch nuclear submarine base, it’s no wonder Paul’s mind begins to wander, as the young men fight to retain their anonymity and conceal their violent trail across Scotland.
Helmed by an increasingly unreliable and unstable narrator, it’s hard not to find yourself feeling sorry for convicted murderer Michael and, perhaps because of that, I’m willing to bet that Fallow won’t be for everyone. But if you’re after a cast of interesting and vibrant characters, and you’re ready to go to some pretty weird places, this unsettling Scottish road trip will suit you just fine.