Harry and Michel are the only two guards in a luxury apartment block. The never leave the basement and their number one priority is keeping the residents safe. Who knows what dangers lurk outside the apartment rules. They spend their days on a strict routine, sleeping in shifts and eking out their rations, awaiting the day a third guard joins. But one day the residents leave on mass. What do they do without any word from the organisation?
In part, The Guard is a brilliant study of the effects of boredom and paranoia. The first half, I loved. There’s the mysterious organisation that put them there and Harry has all these theories of the elite; the role he is destine for. He seems to have developed a whole fantasy to keep him going and it slowly takes over, this desire to be chosen, the escape their life in the basement through promotion and recognition. There’s a sense that it is set in the not too distant future and that something bad has happened outside. What, we don’t really know, but Michel’s speculations add to the atmosphere and suspense.
Michel starts to come across as incredibly dependent on Harry, as if brainwashed. Perhaps as Harry was the first guard he sees him as an authority figure but I was disappointed that Michel didn’t stand up to him or question his actions. The thought may cross his mind but it never seems to be spoken. I started to have a real problem with Harry as a character, which would be fine if he was an obvious villain but I don’t know what I was meant to think. He does some pretty horrible things in that basement but Michel doesn’t respond in any way.
My main problem is that I have no idea what happened at the end. Maybe it’s supposed to replicate disorientation but I couldn’t separate what was real and what was in Michel’s mind. Maybe he was just crazy for the whole book, I don’t know and I so wanted answers about the organisation, what they were doing in the basement and what had happened outside. I wonder if it’s the sort of book you really need to sit down and concentrate on rather than reading on the go as I did. It had a lot of potential but I felt like I had missed something important by the end.
Translated from the original Dutch by David Colmer, The Guard is published by MacLehose Press and is currently available in hardback and ebook formats. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.