Friday, August 30, 2013

The Returned by Jason Mott

August 15, 1966.  The day that life changed forever for Harold and Lucille Hargrave.

This place, here beneath the three trees that threaded together against the cloth of the open sky, this was where they'd found Jacob all those years ago. This was where he and Lucille came to know pain. This was where every promise of life that they had believed in came crumbling apart. This was where he'd held Jacob in his arms and wept, trembling, as the body lay lifeless and still.

Now in their 70s, the Hargraves are watching the events that are unfolding in the world with a sense of disbelief. Who could believe that people who have been dead for years could suddenly turn up looking the same as they did when they died

The last thing that they expected was that there would be a knock at their own door, and waiting on the other side is Jacob, still 8 years old, still their child. Can you begin to imagine the immediate reaction of joy, and the emotions that would follow? Shock and disbelief and who knows what else. The man who brings Jacob home, Martin Bellamy, is a government official whose task is to bring the returned home, and to determine if the family even wants to keep their returnee, but also to try and figure out the hows and whys of the phenomena. Does the returnee remember how they died? Do they remember anything about the time they were gone? How do they feel now? Why do some people come back and others don't? Are they really the same person as they were? So many questions, not all of which are answered neatly for the reader in the course of the book In some ways this is a good thing, because as a reader you have to piece parts of the story together for yourself, but in other ways I was left with questions that were either not answered until right near the end of the book or not at all. For example, I didn't get a grasp on who could return. Was it only people who still had emotional connections who were returning? If not, is it possible that someone who died 200 years ago could come back? Or how about 400 or 500 years ago?

For Lucille, Jacob's return is nothing short of a miracle, a blessing that she could never have even begun to imagine, but her husband, who is somewhat ornery in his old age at the best of times, is far more sceptical and more likely to hold himself at some distance from Jacob. He cannot accept that the little boy is really his son. There is no doubt that he is very much like their son but is he, but is there some small part of him missing?

Due to the growing numbers of returned, the fear that is being sparked and spread by fundamentalists and more the government decides to incarcerate the returnees and the Hargrave's home town of Arcadia is one of the places chosen to be home to what is basically an internment camp. When Jacob and Harold are arrested, Harold refuses to let the boy be alone and so he is placed in the camp too. What starts out as home for a few people with some rights very quickly disintegrates into an overcrowded, filthy and violent place controlled by a colonel who clearly has no respect for the people that he is in charge of. Add in the protests of malcontents from the town who don't like that their town has been taken over and you have a powder keg situation just waiting to explode.

Interspersed in between the chapters are glimpses into the experience of other people who have returned:  the Nazi soldiers who find themselves being sheltered by a Jewish family when there are a mob who want to hunt them down; a woman from Sierra Leone who finds relief in being imprisoned in America rather than in her home country; the French artist whose work came to acclaim posthumously who just wants to be with the woman who championed his work for so long. These glimpses were fascinating and, during the portions of the book that dragged a bit, they were almost as interesting as the actual story. There is so much storytelling possibility to be find in those one or two page sections. I have no idea if this is going to be standalone or if there are likely to be more books read in this world. If it is the latter then a lot of that groundwork could possibly have been laid.

Whilst the story was interesting, it was also thought provoking. Arcadia is located in Bible belt America, so there were plenty of characters in the book who were wondering if this was the end of days, so drawing in religious discussion. The fear of the unknown was also a subject that was explored, as was the environmental impact of suddenly having to support hundreds of thousands of additional people. So much to think about.

I have been trying to think of a book to compare this one too, and I think that the closest I can come up with is The Passage by Justin Cronin. I chose that book because I think that in the same way that Cronin took the shiny-sparkling vampire that was very much in vogue at the time and turned the trope on it's head, Mott has taken undead, a concept which is normally associated with zombies, and made the idea of them much more real in concept. There is also a lovely use of language which points to Mott's background as a poet. Some times the language and and pace of the book dropped off a little more than I possibly would have liked but overall I liked the book without adoring it.

Jason Mott has certainly given us a debut novel that packs a punch, and he looks to be starting with a bang with this novel already having a TV series made of it which will be shown in America early next year. You can see the trailer for the series, which will be called Resurrection, here. I will definitely be watching with interest to see both what Jason Mott comes up with next and the TV series.

In terms of ratings, I wavered somewhere between 3.5 and 4 out of 5, but having let the book settle a little more I think I will go with the higher grade.

Before I finish I just wanted to say what a great job the people who made the book trailer for this film did. It really captures the feeling of the book.

Thanks to the Australian publishers of this book for the review copy they sent me. I am also counting this book as my first read for the RIP VIII challenge hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Dropping.

Tour Details

Link to Tour Schedule:
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About the book

One summer’s day, Agent Bellamy of the International Bureau of the Returned arrives at the home of Harold and Lucille Hargrave with their young son, Jacob, in tow. Jacob, who drowned on his eighth birthday almost fifty years before, is among the many long-dead who have been reappearing around the world, exactly as they were when they passed.

The Hargraves are no longer the young parents who lost their child that tragic day, but Lucille embraces Jacob as if it were yesterday, thrilled to have her darling son once again. The more sceptical Harold is not so sure. He was the one who found Jacob’s body in the river all those years ago; how could this little boy truly be his son?

From the Hargraves’ tiny Southern town of Arcadia to every corner of the globe, the Returned are appearing in increasing numbers, and their loved ones are both filled with gladness and alarmed by the implications. Questions of why the dead are returning remain unanswered—is it a miracle to celebrate or some portent of the end of days? Some, like Lucille, refuse to temper their newfound happiness with dark explanations, but many in Arcadia are fearful of the Returned. As public sentiment swings against them, the seemingly docile Returned are rounded up and detained in prisonlike camps. Their numbers continue to grow, and the camps become increasingly overcrowded and are targets for the brewing fear and hatred among the living.

When Jacob is interned, Harold stays with him, still confounded by what it all means. While one faction in Arcadia grows violent in its efforts to expel the Returned, others grapple with the sudden presence of those long absent—from an entire family murdered long ago under mysterious circumstances to the troubled first love of the town’s minister. As the skein of the once close-knit community unravels into a tangled “us vs. them” rhetoric and retribution—and similar public hysteria erupts around the world—the very definition of humanity will be called into question.

At once disquieting and poignant, The Returned is a remarkable debut work of fiction that blends elements of many genres—from the dystopian thriller to the classic Southern novel. Jason Mott has written a wholly original story that is sure to spark debate now and for years to come.


  1. Such a wonderful review. Well written and thoughtful.
    Would make me want to read the book.:)

  2. That sounds very interesting, a very clever idea. I kept hoping as I read your review that it didn't fall apart for you somewhere along the way, that is always disappointing when a book starts out promising and then that happens. Really nice job on the review, and one down for RIP already, great!!!

    1. One down indeed! Need to have a look at the shelves and see what else I have got!

  3. This sounds like an interesting and creepy read. I'm definitely intrigued.

  4. I read this one for the R.I.P. Challenge as well. For me, it really evoked the sadness of being a refugee -- showing up in a place where you have no life, and needing the protection of others, but often not finding it. Nice review.

    1. Col, it is funny you should say that. I had something in my review saying exactly that but then I took it out because I felt I was projecting my own thinking onto it.

  5. That sounds a little bit like a French TV miniseries they had on British TV a couple of months ago, also called The Returned, but not quite the same. I'd highly recommend it, though, it was fantastic!

    1. Oh, I have been watching a few French things recently. I will keep an eye out for it..

  6. This is also one of my choices for RIP. And, in fact I've watched the tv series from the same. It will be interesting to see how they compare.
    Great review.
    Lynn :D

    1. I think the TV adaptation of this book comes out next year.

  7. I'll definitely be looking for this on TV when it comes out - I LOVE these kinds of shows!

    Thanks for being on the tour Marg. I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.