‘I escaped it all by losing myself in the nearest faraway place. It was easy. All I had to do was think of something happy.’
When I started reading The Nearest Faraway Place I thought I knew what I was getting: a story about grief and moving through it. This is indeed the thrust of the story but its narrative also twists and turns like the emotional rollercoaster the protagonist and his brother are on. The unexpected changes in pace and direction left me, with a third of the book still to read, sobbing buckets on a busy train – so much so, the stranger next to me actually asked if I was OK. Slightly embarrassing, yes, but a testament to writer Hayley Long’s skill at pulling the rug out from underneath you.
The Nearest Faraway Place begins in New York with 15-year-old Dylan (named after the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas) and his 14-year-old brother, Griff. They’ve led an interesting life so far with their teacher parents, travelling the world as a close family unit. They have a rich set of cultural experiences but no proper ties, except for their mother’s cousin in Wales who sends them unspendable British book tokens each birthday but whom they’ve never actually met.
Tragedy strikes and so begins a journey – via some decidedly odd people in New York – across the Atlantic to Aberystwyth. The Welsh town is completely alien to Dylan and Griff, as is the nagging feeling all is not as it seems with Dylan.
The aforementioned plot turns and deviations through time is sometimes a little disorientating (though deftly delivered by Long) but along the bumpy ride, I grew to care about these two lost boys. The Nearest Faraway Place is, despite its theme of grief, an enjoyable read – just make sure you have a box of tissues with you when you read it!