Ginger Nuts of Horror
There are times when an author attempts to try something different with simple narrative structure if a story, and a lot of the time they end falling on their flat on their face, with a story that just ends up being confused, convoluted or even worse just annoying.
Anthony Watson's Witnesses is one such novel that tries to break away from the traditional narrative, with multiple timelines, multiple points of view and even various narrative tenses. It's a bold move, one that opens the story up to so many pitfalls and stumbling blocks. However, Witnesses stands proud grips them by the throat and delivers a challenging yet ultimately rewarding read.
Witnesses isn't an easy read for want of better words, the structure of the novel along with the lack of chapter breaks when the narrative shifts from one person to another, and the use of relatively small passages, at first makes this a daunting read. You need to get into the groove and rhythm of this book, and when you do get into the groove, you are rewarded with a fascinating story of an impending apocalypse filled with dread and horror.
Some books get described as being cinematic in tone, and most of the time they are confusing loads of action with an actual sense of cinematic scope. Witnesses, thanks to the absence of chapter headings, and the rapid cuts from one narrative thread to another lends this book a real cinematic feel. Watson has a real eye for knowing when to shift the perspective, to maximise the consistent feel of the book. He gives you just enough at each time to ensure that you continue reading to find out what happens next.
The novel also takes a refreshing approach to the "bad guys" by setting one of the threads during the First World War, making a refreshing change from usual Nazi angle that many authors take. Watson's writing is probably at its most potent during these passages; he captures the sense of place and maximises the sense of dread and impending doom for the rest of novel during these segments.
The sperate threads while having a distinctive enough voice all follow a similar development, with the characters all facing an initial state of confusion as to what is happening followed by understanding and then action. This is another clever move by the author as it lends the book a sense of entalgement, where the separate stories are distanced by space in time, and yet they still exist in the same universe as the main driving force of the story.
Watson keeps the level of gore and brutality to a minimum, allowing the story rather than the events to build the tension and drama of the novel. The restrained way in which Watson builds up the depictions of the violence as the story unfolds is handled with a keen eye for dramatic effect, allowing for the grand finale to shine through.
While this is, in essence, a novel of a coming apocalypse rather than going for the vast world encompassing an end of the world scenario, Watson keeps the finale in key with the rest of the novel's vision by staying slightly somewhat subdued. That's not to say that the novel ends with a damp squib, there is a clever well thought out, and original concept behind the finale and Watson's delivery is spot on for the book.
Witnesses is one of those books that will infuriate you at the start but once you become invested in it, and the brilliance of the novel clicks in you will be rewarded with a novel that dares to break away from the mundane methods of storytelling and stand out from the rest of the pack.