The Free, Paperback
4.5 out of 5 (1 rating)


The life he knew before the bomb no longer existed.

That Leroy Kervin was gone. Willy Vlautin's stunning fourth novel opens with Leroy, a young, wounded, Iraq veteran, waking to a rare moment of clarity, his senses flooded with the beauty of remembering who he is but the pain of realising it won't last.

When his attempt to end his half-life fails, he is taken to the local hospital where he is looked after by a nurse called Pauline, and visited by Freddie, the night-watchman from his group home for disabled men.

As the stories of these three wounded characters circle and cross each other, we come to learn more of their lives.

The father who caused her mother to abandon them both, and who Pauline loves and loathes in equal measure, the daughters Freddie yearns to be re-united with and, in a mysterious and frightening adventure story, the girlfriend Leroy dreams of protecting.

Evoking a world which is still trying to come to terms with the legacy of a forgotten war, populated by those who struggle to pay for basic health care, Vlautin also captures how it is the small acts of kindness which can make a difference between life and death, between imprisonment and liberty. Haunting and essential, The Free is an unforgettable read.




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Brilliant, compelling and harrowing tale of the forgotten This is the kind of novel that sears itself into your brain. It is a tale of the wounded and forgotten of modern day life, of America. The people who have fallen down the cracks and are trying to hang on and, maybe it’s because I am from place with welfare state, but I found this so utterly terrifying, tragic even amongst its slivers of hope. It’s a story, more of snap shot of a series of interconnected lives. Which sounds aimless and a bit worthy but is so skilfully written that the multiple strands are woven into a satisfying whole.It’s all centred on Leroy, destroyed by the Iraq war and living in a foggy, blurred never ending existence until one day it lifts and he finds clarity. Such is the pain of this sudden gift and so terrified of how it might go he tries to commit suicide. Lying in hospital, injured and lost in a fog of morphine he flees to a nightmare world of his own making, where everyone must be a patriotic solider or die as a traitorous coward. His flight through this land tethers the world to the peripheral stories: his mum (who sits and reads his favourite sci-fi novels), Freddie the night watchman who finds him and is holding down two jobs just to try and pay the crippling medical bills for his young daughter that he never sees. Then there is his nurse Pauline, a wall of indomitable strength with her crazy father and the need to protect another patient, a young, abused homeless girl (trigger warning btw).This is not a light reading. It’s a bald matter of fact statement. It is not all bad, but it is pretty grim and I had to read it in stages, it was just so raw and alien. It doesn’t scream politics but it will make you think about some and even when some warmth seeps through, about the goodness of humanity, the stench will stay with for days after. I may not be saying this very well but I am very glad I read it, it’s a damn fine, accomplished book and I hugely recommend it.

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