The Draftsman by Laurel Lindstrom
This is a book about Martin, a single-minded genius in some ways, but with only the faintest glimmerings of understanding of other people’s and indeed his own life. It is also the story of the ghost of a house, Shadowhurst Hall, that was demolished years before in the physical sense, but comes to represent a past that Martin wants to understand. The characterless house in the grounds now standing in the grounds is only of interest to Martin initially because it reflects his peculiar lifestyle; six bedrooms for him to have a different bed every night, grounds that he has stocked with sheep to improve the view. This is a subtle novel of a mind which is damaged and a way of seeing that brings wealth but little understanding what to do with it. The other characters in the book, including his capable sister, his vain but thoughtful friend Joshua and the stalwart Bill are remarkable for their forbearance and their choices in regard to a man who only sees the world to calculate it, seeing the lines and spaces, the shapes of the world. Damaged, lacking understanding and therefore vulnerable, Martin is a man who has sustained much, but brings unique perspective to a half-remembered house which dominated the past and may hold secrets for the present and future. I found this a fascinating novel and was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review a book which offers such dreamlike insights.
The book opens with Martin arriving in the house, his house, bought six months before as an investment but now readied for his arrival by his sister Alison. They both hope that it marks a new beginning “He wanted to change, he had to change, had to move on, but he wasn’t sure why or to what.” He has driven to the house in a brand new, expensive car, the first time he had driven since passing his test, worried by its power, unaware that it was so indicative of a wealth he had little clue how to enjoy. Alison has worked hard to furnish and equip the house to his specification, even providing cans of tuna and sorting out a gardener/handyman and a cleaner. She is aware of his apartment in London, a huge single room despoiled by food, cigarette ends and the detritus of a man who simply left things to fall to the ground, seemingly unaware of the squalor around him. It transpires that their shared childhood was a strange one of obedience to a mother who may have been abusive, of a father proud of his son but totally baffled about his choices. Martin becomes a young man of rigid habits, compulsively calculating the world around him. He discovers in the house and grounds a challenge, the swans that fascinate him but represent the curves that he cannot control, a glimpse of a life that he cannot quantify, a past that he needs to find out more about.
This is not an easy book to describe, but it has a lyrical quality that transcends the need for a complex plot. It is a work of real insight and subtly marks a change in a life that was rigid and vaguely shameful, a collection of people who genuinely want the best for Martin, whose conspiracy is to help him, and in the process learn a little more about themselves. It is about a house of memories and more. I recommend it as an unusual but satisfying read which raises many questions.