Book Review: ‘A Common Loss’ by Kirsten Tranter A Common Loss By: Kirsten Tranter

2 Mar

A Common Loss is Australian author, Kirsten Tranter’s second novel. Her first, The Legacy, was an assured, fresh retelling of Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady.

A Common Loss tells the story of five friends who meet at university and keep in touch over the next ten years. Following the death of one of their number, Dylan, the friends re-group for their annual visit to Las Vegas.

The story starts with the narrator, Elliot, remembering a car accident the five had together. The driver, Cameron, swerves to avoid a deer and they crash. Cameron has been drinking, so Dylan claims to be the driver. As the years go by, whenever Elliot remembers the crash, it is Dylan who he sees at the wheel. This trick of the memory becomes a motif for the story.

Elliot, a professor of literature, sees himself as a bit of an outsider in the group. With Dylan, who Elliot idealised, removed, tensions rise and relationships buckle under strain. Elliot discovers that not all of his friends viewed Dylan the same way he did. Dylan’s death sets events in train where each friend is forced to reveal long-hidden secrets.

The first part of the book seems a little slow, as Elliott comes to terms with Dylan’s death. Passages of introspection set the scene; ‘I felt strangely paralysed in that way that you feel in dreams sometimes, wanting to move and yet unable to take a step. Was this another symptom of grief, I wondered, catalogued and tagged somewhere?’

However, once the friends gather in Vegas it gets on quite a roll.  I enjoyed the observations on Vegas – how it all seemed like a stage set, changing rapidly from glitter and glitz to ‘desperation and emptiness’. ‘Backstage should be hidden with a curtain or a door from the audience, surely; it shouldn’t be so – well, just so easy to see all the crap and falling-apart stuff out the back,’ Elliot observes.

Essentially a psychological suspense novel, the narrative drive comes from waiting to see how the friendships will react to pressure. Tranter’s writing is clever and insightful. She digs deep into the undercurrents of friendship, guilt and shame. An enjoyable and thought-provoking read.

This is my second review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge. 

8 Responses to “Book Review: ‘A Common Loss’ by Kirsten Tranter A Common Loss By: Kirsten Tranter”

  1. deborahb March 3, 2012 at 2:59 am #

    I just finished THE LEGACY, which I didn’t enjoy so much. But am interested to see more from Tranter. Thanks for the review!

    • Lisa Walker March 3, 2012 at 4:01 am #

      Hi Deborah – thanks for the comment. I think I actually enjoyed The Legacy more than A Common Loss, but she is definitely an interesting and insightful writer.

  2. shelleyrae @ Book'd Out March 7, 2012 at 1:47 am #

    I hope to read both The Legacy and A Common Loss eventually.

    Thank you for sharing your review for the AWW challenge

    Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out

    • Lisa Walker March 7, 2012 at 8:42 am #

      Yes, they’re both well worth a read, hoping to do 6 reviews for the AWW, 4 to go!

  3. Elizabeth Lhuede June 15, 2012 at 11:04 am #

    Thanks for your review, Lisa. I agree, the novel was slow at the beginning and picked up toward the end. The pleasure for me in Tranter’s writing is in her skill at writing prose and the slow build up of tension. For me, this aspect was even more fascinating in The Legacy as that story had more of a mystery element than A Common Loss. Both, however, are interesting for the way they depict their protagonists’ fascination for a friend who is not quite as they seem. Interesting stuff for fiction!

    • Lisa Walker June 16, 2012 at 3:42 am #

      Hi Elizabeth, mm, yes, plenty of potential there with the ‘friend with a secret’. I do like Kirsten’s writing a lot, as you say her prose is very skilled.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Literary works 2012 – what’s being reviewed? « Australian Women Writers Challenge - August 26, 2012

    [...] – A Common Loss. HarperCollins Ann-Marie Sjoberg, Jessica White, Annabel Smith, JudiJ, Lisa Walker, Phillip A [...]

  2. Kirsten Tranter’s A Common Loss: Two reviews « Australian Women Writers Challenge - August 26, 2012

    [...] Elliot, a professor of literature, sees himself as a bit of an outsider in the group. With Dylan, who Elliot idealised, removed, tensions rise and relationships buckle under strain. Elliot discovers that not all of his friends viewed Dylan the same way he did. Dylan’s death sets events in train where each friend is forced to reveal long-hidden secrets… The full review appears on Lisa’s blog here. [...]

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