*slight spoiler alert*
Disputed Land by Tim Pears is frankly, to me, a bit of an oddity of a novel. It begins with a man intent upon recording some aspect of his family's history for his children, who seem bemused by this.
At this point I anticipated a story set in the 1970's about the man's past in connection to the current present. However, when we flashback we are in 2008 our "present day". Theo, the story's author and main character is a teenager and is meeting up with his relations, a rare occurrence, for Christmas at his grandparents home. It transpires that his Grandmother has cancer and has brought them all together so that they can divide her possessions prior to her death. There is bluff selfish businessman Uncle Jonny his obnoxious twins Xan and Baz and his beautiful wife Aunt Lorna. Theo's Aunt Gwen who has newly become a lesbian, her partner Melony and her daughters Sid and Holly with golden child and favoured grandson Matt set to follow on.
What bugged me is that with the reveal or twist in the closing pages of this novel, like Theo's children I wondered what precisely the point was of this particular story he told. It didn't seem to bear any relevance or importance to the lives which his children and grandchildren now led, and would seem in many ways likely to anger them with the laissez faire arrogance of the past and the almost fairytale like plenty. The truly interesting story for me was Theo's present in relation to his past, of the past there is plenty but of the present there is next to nothing.
What remains is essentially the story of your average middle class privileged Christmas with everyone trying to be civil and get along. And the strange, uncomfortable yet important act of sorting out someone's possessions when their death hasn't yet occurred but is known to be impending.
Though these are common experiences, it's a bit boring, and nothing special. The idea that Theo is writing this from a future that was predicted yet not heeded is supposed to be what makes this special. If there had been a continual juxtaposition of this concept throughout the novel it might have become moving even alarming but instead it just feels like a juvenile sensational addendum to a thirteen year olds short story, and a riff on the ideas of the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present.
Sadly the bulk of this novel is very Aga Saga esque and its failed attempt at a decent twist doesn't save it. If it were a paperback and not an ebook it would be off to Oxfam tomorrow I'm afraid. 5/10