Hell is other people

The Guard, by Peter Terrin, translated by David Colmer, MacLehose Press, RRP£16.99, 288 pages

Michel and Harry are security guards who live and work in the basement of a luxury apartment building. Under strict instructions not to leave their posts, they stay put even after the residents mysteriously flee, perhaps in response to a threat of war or natural disaster. The pair hope that if they keep up their patrols their employers, the shadowy “Organisation”, will reward them with promotion to an elite squad of officers. But as the weeks slip by, they become ever more paranoid and violent.

The Guard, by Flemish author Peter Terrin, is a little reminiscent of JG Ballard’s High Rise, but it lacks that work’s fierce energy and satirical bite. A strangely lacklustre and aimless novel, it is difficult to see what exactly Terrin hoped to achieve with it, apart from to suggest that two people who spend a long time together in a confined space are liable to drive each other crazy. Hell is other people – or, indeed, an interminably dull dystopian novel.

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