Thursday, July 27, 2017

"Devastation Road"

Jason Hewitt is a novelist, playwright and actor. He was born in Oxford, and lives in London. His debut novel, The Dynamite Room, was long-listed for the Desmond Elliott Prize and the Authors' Club First Novel Award.

Hewitt applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, Devastation Road, and reported the following:
Page 69 in Devastation Road comprises of a short quiet scene that I often forget I wrote, and yet it brings to the forefront many of the novel’s themes.

Owen begins the novel by waking in a field somewhere in Europe. He’s injured and wearing clothes that don’t belong to him, and has no idea of where he is, or even when it is. In fact it’s May 1945 and the conflict he has very little recollection of is now only days away from ending. The novel is ultimately about his attempts to get back home through the chaotic aftermath of war.

By page 69 Owen has been joined by Janek, a 16-year old Czech boy who speaks little English. They have formed an uneasy alliance, neither trusting each other yet neither wanting to make their journeys on their own. In this scene they are nearing the end of their second day together. They rest in a crop of forested trees and Owen sits on a stump poking around with a broken watch that Janek had been intent on throwing away…
He wondered if he could mend it. He had managed to prise the back off. Inside, the springs and wheels stood stationary. He gave each a gentle nudge with the blunt tip of the pencil but nothing wanted to move. He took the watch to pieces and emptied all its cogs and coils and tiny screws into his hand. Now though, scattered out across his palm, none of the parts seemed to bear any correlation to the others. He poked at one or two of them with his fingernail, uncertain even what they were. If he could navigate his way around anything as complex as an instrument panel, he could navigate his way around something as simple as a watch.

Even as a child he had taken things to pieces – clocks, wirelesses, gearboxes and carburettors – and then tried to rebuild them, only better. He liked to see how things worked, the design and construction – even of a living creature. He had dissected a frog once, all on his own. He had pinned it to a slab of wood while it was still alive and then had been disappointed when, the moment he had nervously cut it open, it had promptly died. He had so wanted to watch its tiny pumping heart.
Owen has long-term memory loss, so just as he is trying to fix the pieces of the watch together and can make no sense of them, so too is he trying to piece his frayed memories together, and, with that, his former life. Mending the watch should be easy for Owen. We know that he was once a draughtsman and has an engineering background; he sees the world around him as if everything is mechanical and yet he knows that this was not why he was in Europe. There must have been some other reason. The novel therefore is as much about his journey of self-discovery. The watch is significant too. We don’t yet know where Janek got it from but it has its own narrative, swapping and changing hands as the story develops, before eventually finding its own true home.

While Owen is deliberating the broken watch, Janek smokes. He thinks the war has made a man of him and yet he is still a child. He wants to be a resistance fighter like his missing brother and yet has no real comprehension of what that means.
Janek wandered back, pinging his cigarette stub into the grass and then stepping up on to one of the stumps, and then from that on to another and to another, having to jump sometimes, barely crossing the gap. He suddenly appeared on the same stump as Owen, behind him, his toe kicking at Owen’s backside. He peered over Owen’s shoulder at what he was doing before leaping off on to the next.
The scene holds a rare moment of conciliation between them, but they will soon be joined by another character and everything is turned on its head.
Visit Jason Hewitt's website.

My Book, The Movie: Devastation Road.

--Marshal Zeringue