The Bestowing Sun, the first novel by British author Neil Grimmett, is the literary equivalent of roots-rock, stylistically stripped-down and perfectly executed. In comparison to many other first books, this novel is a conservative work in most respects. Absent are the avant-garde flourishes, metaphysical digressions, homebrew punctuation and non-linear plot structures that are attempted (usually with little success) by young outsider authors. Instead, what Mr. Grimmett delivers is a deceptively straightforward narrative so beautifully written that it makes us wonder why we thought that experimental pomo excess was ever a good idea to begin with.
The Bestowing Sun centers around the intertwined stories of two brothers in rural Somerset, England. One brother, Richard, stays at home on the family farm and wrestles with how to integrate the traditional way of life he grew up with into the modern world. The second brother, William, is the sensitive, creative type: a talented painter, he is the perpetual outsider in the bucolic English countryside. Alienated from his family and particularly from his brother Richard, William moves to Spain and then to London in an effort to realize his artistic ambitions.
In many ways, the outcome of this story about growing up and self-discovery is a predictable one. Ultimately, each brother has something that the other needs: in the end, William will learn to be at peace with his own history by taking a page from Robert’s steadfastness while Robert will discover a means of trusting his own desire to love by embracing William’s artistic sensibility. Despite the fact that we’ve all seen this formula before however, it’s how these characters arrive at their moment of reconciliation and revelation that matters, and in the case of The Bestowing Sun the journey is one well worth taking. Mr. Grimmett draws his protagonists with an expert eye and deep affection, making their triumphs and sorrows resonate deeply in the reader.
Particularly effective in this book is Grimmett’s portrayal of Robert’s rage and frustration at the sense that he is never appreciated or understood for his desire to continue the family legacy, and his descriptions of William’s relationship to his art. Mr. Grimmett uses the character of William in this book to discuss his own role as a writer and in subtle ways we are able to glimpse how – for the author – art is a means of redeeming and explaining the pain and contradiction of everyday life. And in the course of reading this simple, beautiful novel, our own faith the essentials of literature, of plot and character and the ability of words to profoundly convey the vitality of human emotion, is redeemed as well.