How the Trouble Started by Robert Williams
Faber and Faber
As beautiful as it is unnerving, How the Trouble Started needs to be on your must-read book-list. This is Williams’ second novel and, while I haven’t read the first, Luke and Jon, I now feel compelled to get myself a copy. It’s clear from the first page – the first line, actually – that this writer knows exactly what he’s doing. It’s all in the gaps. The information we’re given, and the information that’s withheld. It’s our desire to fill in those gaps that draws us along.
The police were involved over the trouble. They had to be . . . They wanted to know what I understood by ‘intent’.
The author says ‘it took him 40,000 words to get to that line and realise that’s where the novel started’. Donald is the novel’s narrator. The one who caused ‘the trouble’ which ended one life and changed his forever. It is this question of intent which drives the novel. What has he done and did he mean to do it? From Donald’s perspective, we also see the impact of events on his mother, his only visible parent, and the rest of his life as he grows up, imprisoned by the loneliness this ‘crime’ has created. He embarks upon ‘vanishings’, detailed imaginary places and situations that always seem to involve a picturesque family life. A far cry from the one he has now.
It is this desire for family, for connection, which sees Donald getting caught up in a new friendship that could destroy the new start his mother has tried so hard to create. Throughout the novel, we are challenged to question Donald’s intent. What is at the heart of this new friendship? What lengths will he go to in order to preserve it? Who is at risk? Is it completely innocent, or is the secret of ‘the trouble’ about to be revealed? At one point, Donald sets up a ‘haunted house’ for his new young friend, which could either be a seriously disturbing way of grooming the boy, or yet another method of constructing a family, a home he has never fully experienced himself.
It’s the fact that Williams keeps the ‘truth’ of the trouble hidden until the very end that makes it such a motivating read. You want to know the truth. But can you ever, really?
Follow Robert Williams @redwardwilliams