Book review: The Roadmap of Loss by Liam Murphy

Friday, February 9, 2024 Permalink

I must make a confession… I have absolutely no interest in visiting America. None. Zip. So I’m probably not the ideal audience for The Roadmap of Loss by Liam Murphy which is ostensibly centred around a roadtrip around the US. Although… of course however, the book is about more than roadtripping – it’s about a young man coming to terms with the loss of his mother and (belatedly) the disappearance (and loss) of his father from his life two decades earlier.

Book review: The Roadmap of Loss by Liam MurphyThe Roadmap of Loss
by Liam Murphy
Published by Bonnier Echo, Echo Publishing
Source: Echo Publishing
Genres: General Fiction, Literary Fiction
ISBN: 9781760688295
Pages: 368
three-half-stars
Goodreads

It's 1997 in Melbourne, Australia, and Mark Ward is struggling to make sense of the world following the sudden death of his mother. His father, Dylan, had abandoned him and his mother when Mark was still a child, and Mark has always believed he died in a car accident shortly afterwards. For most of his life, he has carried an unjustifiable sense of guilt about his father's absence, overlaid with memories of him as a cruel and unloving man.

Clearing out his mother's house, a bereft, rapidly deteriorating Mark is shocked to discover a collection of letters written to her by Dylan - some of which postdate his supposed death. Discussing life and love, fears and dreams, set against the backdrop of his bohemian travels across the United States, Dylan's letters become beacons for Mark, who sees in them a final chance to achieve closure, as well as his own redemption. With a burning suspicion that Dylan may still be out there, Mark decides to retrace the journey taken by his estranged father twenty years earlier.

Moving through the country with only a beat-up car as company and the letters of a stranger for guidance, Mark is faced with the enormity and polarity of late nineties America. Bouncing from one city and bizarre situation to the next, he encounters a tapestry of people along the way - many of them eccentric, some malign, some nurturing, others as lost as he is. Alone in a foreign land, the search for peace soon becomes a battle with loneliness, addiction and nihilism as Mark begins to see in himself reflections of the father he grew up resenting.

It’s interesting that – when this book opens Mark is frustrated by his mother’s drinking, something she seems to have been doing heavily for some time. At one point there’s a discussion about what drives a reliance on alcohol… whether it’s because someone can no longer stand feeling nothing; or because they feel absolutely everything all of the time. (p 13)

Mark however has always blamed his father, who disappeared without a trace two decades earlier. He believes his mother has never been able to move on as a result.

Yet after his mother’s death Mark takes a drink from one of her bottles and never looks back. At least for some time. He drinks himself out of a job and into a corner, deciding to follow in his father’s footsteps when he discovers letters tracing his travels in the US.

And although I’ve no interest in visiting there I still found some of Mark’s exploits interesting – the people he comes across and their response to him – as an Australian, as a wanderer and as a philosopher. And Murphy’s descriptive prose about the terrain Mark traverses on the physical journey mirror his own emotional one.

On one level this book is very much about the impact or influence our childhoods have on us, but also a reminder that we have the ability to control our lives and change the course we’re on. Of course I don’t mean everything in our lives is in our control as I know that’s not the case.

I didn’t hate my father for what he’d done; I hated myself for letting it turn me into what I’d become. After twenty-five years of clenched fists and staring into mirrors with disgust, I was tired. So tired it hurt in my chest. p 239

This is a philosophical read, a novel about finding yourself (with a bit of the Wizard of Oz’s ‘you had the power all of the time’ messaging as Mark talks about searching for the great frontier). The combination of the weightier themes and Murphy’s evocative prose reflecting Mark’s physical and metaphysical travels will mean this certainly appeals to many.

I seemed to know less and less with each passing day, though I was beginning to realise nobody gets any better at seeing in the dark by spending all their time in it. p 321

The Roadmap of Loss by Liam Murphy was published in Australia by Echo Publishing.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.

three-half-stars

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