by J.W. Ironmonger
Maximilian Ponder has locked himself away in the family seat for thirty years with no phone, radio or television. His personal clock stopped in 1975, his only link to the world beyond his walls is his childhood – and only – friend Adam Last and Adam is duty bound never to mention anything that is happening in the present, because that would pollute the state of Max’s brain on the day he began his grand project: the cataloguing of his memories; all the information in his brain, up to and including the day he shut himself away.
It could have been rather dry. It’s not. It is a collection of stories about life and how it feels to be alive; a remarkably woven tapestry of past and present and how events impacted two men – Adam and Max, who met as children in colonial Africa, their lives inextricably entwined because of Max’s project – a life’s work that only Adam truly understands.
Max’s diary entries contrast with Adam’s own memories, and Adam’s thoughts sit alongside Max’s musings and all the characters – Max and Adam, their families and friends and the people they knew, like Max’s father’s friend, Idi Amin – are wonderfully real. Turning points in history sit alongside simple stories of the everyday and everything is stitched together with the strange, sad story of Max Ponder. The African chapters in particular, are exceptional. The writing is consistently superb; touching and sad and detailed by turns, rich in detail but never laboured; constantly entertaining, readable and quite remarkable.