Alone with myself - by Kev Harrison
Warning - contains spoilers and an analysis of the themes of the book
This book is free (at the time of this review), sent as a download link directly from the author upon joining his newsletter, and also sent to those people already on Kev’s newsletter (which was the case). When I received Kev’s email I jumped on the chance. I know Kev’s writing from his collection of shorts “Paths better left untrodden”, his novella (also free) “Warding”, his novellas “The Balance” and “Below”, as well as a couple of shorts in various anthologies, and by this stage have faith in the author that whatever he dreams up is worth my time. This was no exception.
Ok, I’m going to use this review as an exercise in exploring the themes presented in the book, and my interpretation thereof. Kev has crafted an exploration into guilt, memory, and letting go, and to attempt to do credit to the book, this really would need a reading circle group to pick it apart, but failing that, here’s what I think of it. Spoilers ahead – please don’t read on if you want to enjoy the book as it is supposed to be read.
Ok. Still with me? My take on the book is that it is an exploration of grief, and how the mind protects itself from protracted memory loss. We start the tale with the death of the protagonist’s partner – We join him as he spreads her ashes out into the sea. A giving up of the physical – and this is an important image for an understanding of the content of the rest of the novel – is a representation of memory, those ashes drifting into the sea piece by piece, to fall into the depths and drift to the sea bed. What is important here is that the giving up of her ashes is completed with relief to an extent – we are happy to let go of the physical because we understand our own healing needs to take place. The memories of life with a lost one are, unfortunately, a somewhat different - and more painful – process to extract oneself from. But I’ll get to that.
The MC is a lighthouse keeper, again perhaps a social commentary from Kev – his purpose is to keep other people safe from harm, yet insists on “harming himself” through his inability to let the memories of a loved one go. But that’s probably just my take on it. Regardless – during a stormy night, he saves (from a shipwrecked boat) a man who is strangely familiar. The man has memory loss and stays at the lighthouse whilst he recovers – and through their interaction, we learn that he looks like the MC himself – and can remember details of their shared life with their missing wife – memories the MC cannot remember, the shipwrecked man can, and vice versa.
Ok, so here’s my take on it all. It’s Kev’s comment on letting go. This is grief, and how grief works. When you say goodbye to someone, spread their ashes, or bury them, you are attempting to cut yourself free of them because, like a wounded animal that has to gnaw its own foot off to escape a trap – to stay connected to a memory of a person will send you mad and rot the whole. So – when the MC spreads her ashes, he is also subconsciously letting go of some of her memories. We all have selective memories – we cling to those memories that are important to us of lost ones, but we pick and choose. To remember everything is too painful a loss – we would never move on. Our best defense mechanism is to love the memories we hold dear of loved ones but to keep those memories compartmentalized, and let the rest go. The shipwrecked man represents exactly that – those released memories, cast aside into the sea at the same time as his wife’s ashes. The only person that could ever “rescue” them, is, of course, the MC himself. He is the only one that could remember them when presented with photographs or other triggers. But to do so, to remember those memories, is in itself damaging. The more the man remembers, the more devastated he becomes. To remember a person, shared memories, in their entirety, means to come closer to a total picture of everything you have lost – the attempt to do is essentially self-harm.
When both of the men realize what is happening, the shipwrecked man returns to the sea – because he realizes the whole will only break if they are allowed to co-exist.
There is a reason why we let go. Let memories die.
This is a commentary on loss, on grief, on the fact that it is ok to move on past that guilt hanging over from the past, onto the perfect and imperfect memory of a lost loved one, which is as damaging an event as the loss itself – you will lose, again and again, and again, and that cycle of self-harm cannot end until you yourself realize it is ok to let go, to lose a part of yourself.
Because there are other parts of yourself that are waiting to be found, added, and lived. New partners, new loved ones, and though they will never replace those lost parts of yourself that you freed, they give you new memories, new experiences, re-invent the new you. This is not about replacement, this is about moving on to a new you.
The title of the book summarizes everything – it is ok to live with yourself, but it is equally ok, and, I argue, more important, to occasionally let parts of yourself go.
Ok. That’s what I took from it.
Maybe I’m right, or maybe this is just a story about a doppelganger, rescued from the sea with an uncanny knowledge of the memories of his savior, who decides that dying in the sea is probably the better option than being trapped in a lighthouse with a guy who is mourning.
But I think I nailed it.
Kev – I loved the imagery, the way the story was told. The voice is yours, rich, warm, with a tang of English accent, and one laps it up. The book is woefully short (I will continue to bug you for a novel – Yes, I can wait), but as you can see from my analysis above, it stays with you.
An easy 5 out of 5 ⭐ ‘s. If you haven’t joined Kev’s newsletter yet, you only have yourself to blame. Great work, mate.
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