Margaret Sweatman's Mr. Jones (2014)

Mr. Jones - Margaret Sweatman

Margaret Sweatman's Mr. Jones openly confronts duplicity.


"His life had been contrary, a series of duplications: two homes; a father who’d dominated and also abandoned him; heroic war service that was also the shame of his nation. He had no words for himself. He felt like an empty room without light, but for the borrowed light from his friends and the radiance of their ideals."


And complexity.


"It took Emmett three days to fall asleep. All in one blow: Suzanne McCallum’s shoulders, John Norfield’s clavicle. Falling in love, loyal forever to that one glimpse of purity you see in somebody, that kind of love, he thought, is a question of instinct, a move you make before thinking, and it changes everything in a split second."


But although Mr.Jones is about espionage, it's set in the Cold War; the action can be sudden and dramatic, but it is couched in the solidity of everyday life, given time to reflect upon what is contained in a series of sleepless nights or a fleeting glimpse.


How to spot things changing in a single instant and what things to keep secret: these things can be learned. One can also learn how to see, how to look, how to be seen, and how not to be seen.


"'And was anyone there? Besides me?'
'I don’t know. I don’t know how to look for those things.'
Suzanne didn’t really know either. But she would learn. Looking had become her domain. She had nowhere else to live."


Just as Suzanne is searching, the setting is of little consequence in this novel, for the action is more often interior, the exterior providing a shell in which secrets can simmer.


“'You and I, we have a bond,' Kimura said. 'A friendship. Our origins are in secrecy.'”


This is not a Robert Ludlum thriller, but a slow-burning story. Readers feel the characters' desire to connect through prose which leaves them on the margins; we read about love and passion, heightened conflict, but we feel isolated, solitary observers holding a bound tale in our hands.


"Sunlight struck their complicated faces, revealed them in their aloneness."


But although alone, this is not an entirey painful state; the novel presents a meditative study of life as solitary refinement, rather than an overwhelmingly sad tale of marginal existence.


"Time was created to ease our pain. The cormorant suddenly opens and spreads its slate black wings, and lake water sprays like shattered crystals in the sun. Here is perfection."

These thoughts originally appeared on BuriedInPrint.