Book Review: The Other, David Guterson

David Guterson is the author of best-selling novel ‘Snow Falling on Cedars’, which won the 1995 PEN/Faulkner Award, and was adapted into the 1999 film of the same name. A Guggenheim Fellow, he was once a contributing editor to Harper’s magazine and is a co-founder of Fields End, an organisation for writers. ‘The Other’ is his seventh novel.

‘The Other’ is a novel about friendship! In particular, the friendship between two very different men. We are introduced to our principal characters in Seattle 1972, when they are still just teenage boys, standing at the starting post of an 800m race. Neil Countryman is from the public high school. Son of a carpenter, he gets bored in class and high in the park. John William Barry is at the private academy for the elite. Sole heir to a banking and timber fortune, he is rich in wealth, but poor in familial love. 

As John William pips Neil to the finishing post... so begins their story. With a common interest in the wilderness, the mountains and survival adventures, they explore the uncharted territory. The tracks that lead to nowhere. But, as men, their lives change. Their interests no longer the same, they start to take different paths. Neil becomes an English teacher, marries, has children. John William’s desire for isolation marks him out as an eccentric. He withdraws from society and lives life as a hermit in a self-excavated cave in the mountains. 

Unable to abandon his friend, Neil treks the mountain ranges bringing him necessities such as food and medicine. Despite becoming increasingly concerned for his friend's physical deterioration he never breaks his promise, and never speaks of his whereabouts.

‘The Other’ is told in retrospect by Neil, as he explores his friends past and his subsequent guilt. It is a poignant portrait of an extraordinary friendship, a moving study of the choices we make, and the impact they can have. Written in beautifully descriptive prose, it is an exceptional novel from a remarkable writer. 

‘The Other’ is published in hardback on 6th October 2008, priced £18.99

* Image from book cover.