I am always looking out for new experiences, wherever I may find myself.
Published June 10th 2012
A Common Loss is the kind of book you will power through. And no wonder. It was written by Kirsten Tranter, who proved her mastery over the written form in her debut novel The Legacy, which was shortlisted for a number of awards, including the Indie Award for Debut Fiction, and was long-listed for the Miles Franklin Award. A Common Loss is Tranter's second novel and from the first page it rapidly draws you in as the author slowly unveils her world with the kind of transparent writing that lets you get lost in it.
The novel tells the story of four friends who unite on their annual trip to Las Vegas after the death of the fifth member of their group - Dylan - who recently died in a car accident. The novel is narrated by Elliot, a sometimes outsider to the group who expects to spend the trip learning to deal with the loss of Dylan and negotiating new group dynamics. But of course that doesn't happen. Or at least not how Elliot expected. Instead, each member of the group finds himself haunted by secrets he thought only Dylan knew and the possibility that these past actions may soon become public knowledge.
As Tranter slowly reveals the mysteries behind each character and the threats now hanging over each of them, she creates a perfectly paced novel that maintains a vice-like grip over the reader. While reading this book I hated having to put it down when something pressing came calling. Once, when I had not choice but to leave it, I couldn't help but flick through the pages to see what happened in the next scene. I didn't want to be left wondering!
It is the plot that captured my attention in this way, rather than any real concern for the characters. Courtesy of both their secrets and his own outlook, there is a sense that Elliot doesn't quite have a true grasp of his friends. This meant I did not connect with any of the others or particularly care if things were taking a turn for the worse. My interest in what was happening stemmed from pure curiosity and a need to know what would come next. I wanted explanations. On the other hand, I felt like I knew Dylan pretty well by the end of the novel and was always intrigued by his story. Tranter's portrayal of such a group dynamic is an interesting look at how friendships change over time.
The depiction of Las Vegas is another reason the book is so absorbing, as Tranter captures the place beautifully. Each casino is a unique experience, and she writes with the kind of realism that provides the reader with just enough description to make you feel as if the events really happened. There's no wading through long, dull paragraphs. Tranter also seems to know the city inside and out, yet still manages to convey all the small quirks that only someone with fresh eyes would see; those things that make up a such a full experience for the reader. It is exactly how Elliot would have seen the place.
I would rave about this book more but I guarantee that the less you know about the events it describes, the more you will get caught up in the action. So if The Common Loss sounds like the kind of book you would like to take a look at (and I certainly recommend it) why not read the opening chapter here or buy the book here.