Lamb by Matt Hill

November 14, 2023

When lorry driver Dougie Alport carries out a deadly attack on his employer’s head office, the reverberations of his actions unleash a grief in his wife Maureen that threatens to reveal the secret she has spent years hiding from their son, Boyd.

Moving north to start again is Maureen’s best response. But as the walls begin to throb with mould and his mother slips from his grasp, Boyd decides to flee, finding solace with a new friend at the landfill site on the edge of town. Here, a startling discovery upends Boyd’s new life and forces him into a reckoning with his mother, her past, and his future.

Something a bit different this week. In the aftermath of a family tragedy, Lamb by Matt Hill explores the breakdown of the relationship between a mother and son.

The book covers two distinct time periods. Firstly there is Boyd’s life immediately after his father’s attack and then a flashback to Maureen’s formative years.

Boyd is on the cusp of his journey into manhood. Like many teenagers, he is consumed by thoughts of his future, of the person he could become. When his life is ripped away, Boyd suddenly finds himself adrift from everything. His parents are strangers. The world no longer makes any kind of sense. The pain in Boyd’s character feels palpable. Being a teen is a traumatic experience at the best times. Having to deal with that and the collapse of his family pushes Boyd beyond the limit. Running away from everything feels like the only option.

The evolution of Maureen’s character particularly struck me. We follow her from birth right through to the blossoming of her relationship with Boyd’s father, Dougie. When the story fast forwards to the present you get a real sense that the intervening years have not been kind. Maureen’s wide-eyed innocence has slowly ebbed away, replaced by a bone-deep weariness. She has been ground down by the banality of life. Dreams have been replaced by a painful longing for a life lost. Dougie’s seemingly inexplicable actions are the final straw. Long-buried secrets begin to resurface, eating away at her core as Maureen’s mental state deteriorates.

You could be fooled into thinking Lamb is nothing more than kitchen sink drama come character study, but there is far more to it than that. Some moments veer into the realms of body horror and other scenes reminded me of the Terry Gilliam movie, The Fisher King. Hill’s writing explores the notion that the darkly fantastical can exist side by side with the mundane. The narrative could almost be viewed as a modern-day fairy tale. It helps that Matt Hill’s vision of Britain often seems alien, almost otherworldly, while in other moments everything feels all too familiar.

In the hands of a less skilled author, Lamb could easily have devolved into melodrama but Hill guides the story with the most delicate of touches. We get to learn what lies within these two broken souls while focusing on their respective journeys. Lamb is an emotive gut punch that is impressively executed. This is the sort of writing that will leave an impression on anyone who reads it. There is a visceral rawness to events that makes every interaction feel utterly genuine, every scene that much more heartbreaking. Boyd and Maureen and so well realised you can’t help but feel for them.

Elements from the best genre fiction have been woven together to make something unique. Science fiction and fantasy collide with horror creating a tale that will undoubtedly prompt discussion.  Lamb is a story about understanding the nature of grief and pain, love and loss. Hill’s poignant prose had me glued to every page.

Lamb is published by Dead Ink and is available now. Highly recommended.

I’ll end now, as I always do, with a musical recommendation to accompany the novel. After much thought, I’ve decided to pair Lamb with the soundtrack to Bones and All by Trent Reznor. There is something fragile but also compelling about this haunting work that captures that same tone in Matt Hill’s work perfectly.

Lamb cover

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