Monday, 14 July 2014

Rapid Reviews : Anthem by Tim Binding

Some years ago now I read a novel called A Perfect Execution, a dark fictional post war tale about one of Britain's last hangmen from an author I had never come across before, Tim Binding. 

To my shame, the book I am writing about here today is only the second novel by Tim Binding I have read and I'm surprised he's not more widely known and more critically and commercially acclaimed.

Anthem is a 2003 novel set in the spring and summer of 1982 and specifically the Falklands war and how the conflict affects and shapes the lives of the residents of a Anglefield Close, a peaceful road in a small suburb North of London. In focusing on four families, Binding weaves his tale almost like a classy and epic soap opera and, like that medium, delights in the little twists of fate and bitterly ironic coincidences life throws up.

The novel opens with a vivid and affecting depiction of a mother and her young boy being separated forever in a London smog of the late 50s. It's a really poignant opening and, at first, doesn't make much sense to the rest of the narrative ahead, but all will be revealed before the book's conclusion and satisfyingly so. Much of the actual story however, focuses on Suzanne, the young bored and frustrated wife of the older Matty, who lives for her time on the sea, working on the cruise ship Canberra. When the Canberra is requisitioned to ferry the troops to the Falklands, Suzanne is changed forever. Meanwhile on shore, her neighbour the downtrodden Richard Roach begins to spin a web of deceit that will prove extremely damaging.

Binding's writing style is a joy to read and employs a great many metaphors and similes regarding the water - be they the ocean the Canberra sails upon or canals, rivers and swimming pools - with the description of lovemaking (which features quite often, it's an adult story but dealt with great maturity and intelligence) as 'bodies slapping against one another like waves against a boat'. I was also quite chuffed to spot a link between this novel and the previous one I had read from Binding; a secondary character in this, one of the Marines heading for war, is the son of the hangman featured in Place of Execution. He also perfectly encapsulates the nature of hope and glory, the national crisis and weird patriotic revival the Falklands war gave the nation. Moving, gripping, humane and funny, I thoroughly recommend Anthem.

Is it just me who sometimes pictures actors playing the protagonists in the novels you read? In my head throughout I had people like Romola Garai as Suzanne, Douglas Hodge as her husband Matty (though Hodge is probably a bit too old for the role now), Rory Kinnear as Roach and Sally Hawkins as his wife Ellen, and Olivia Colman and Eddie Marsan, Alison Steadman and Jim Broadbent as the other residents of the close and Tobias Menzies as Henry, a soldier who helps link several stories together. I'm surprised Binding's novels have never been adapted for film or television actually, as they have a good deal of potential.

Romola Garai  - would make an ideal Suzanne


  1. I quite often mentally cast people as characters in the books I read.

    I'm reading a biography of Alf Wight/James Herriot at the moment and it's really hard to picture him as the man on the cover instead of as Christopher Timothy!

    1. It's the frustrated casting director in me!

      And yeah, I used to always picture Timothy, Robert Hardy and Peter Davison reading Herriot books as a kid too!