This review is an extended version of one originally published at Reedsy where I get to review books before they are published, which is rather exciting.
Horatio’s Promise is the name of the town where the book is set and I have to say that this is what attracted me to this book. I mean, it sounds like an interesting place for a story to be set. The action of the book centres around the character of Alfred Spellman who is a music teacher who visits the town of Horatio’s Promise during the summer to escape the confines of the city and feel like he is part of a community. He stays with his landlady and her effeminate son and harbours an attraction for her which he is shy to act upon.
When Alfred is asked by Icarus, the son to find out what happened to his father who mysteriously disappeared, Alfred explores the town and its inhabitants in a bid to discover and uncover the truth.
Whilst Alfred investigates, the town becomes inflicted by disease: polio. What has previously been a haven for Alfred now becomes a place where the people with whom he has felt his most comfortable and the kids with whom he has become close due to his teaching them are falling around him and the question is asked: where did the polio come from?
One of the first things I noticed when reading “Horatio’s Promise” was the vast array of characters that Gill has created to inhabit this fictional world. Creating a whole town and the interactions between all of these people takes a lot of effort as they are all distinct. As a reader you get a clear picture of the town that Alfred Spellman, our “hero”, inhabits for the summer.
Gill’s descriptions at times were just great: Gill tells us about one character Alfred encounters by saying “the square little woman is reminiscent of an untidy bullet” which manages to tell the reader much about that character’s personality in a wonderfully succinct way. This is also true of the description of place that Gill uses throughout the book and I would say this is this writer’s strength. Their use of language is accomplished and precise.
However, I found the plot a little muddled and at times, was not totally clear of the purpose of the book. Dialogue between characters was evocative in that it gave you the essence of that individual but some interactions to me felt underdeveloped and too brief to glean any real clues to the story. I was unclear on what was meant to be revealed if anything and some of these scenes ended somewhat abruptly in my opinion.
There was gentle humour in the book and Alfred Spellman is not a man to be taken too seriously but there are also some very dark themes and the juxtaposition of the two did not sit easily, working against each other. This was also the case with the plot and subplots that Gill has incorporated, all vying for attention. I felt like too much was trying to be achieved and that this complicated the narrative, making it too busy and, on occasion, a little baffling.
I feel that Gill has much skill as a writer in terms of character creation and description – some lines were sublime – but there was too much going on in terms of the storylines within the book and this made it a tangled read for me.