Feeding Time – Adam Biles
Release Date: 18/08/2016
Publisher: Galley Beggar Press (Review copy supplied)
Pages: 300pp RRP: £12.99 (Limited Edition) £8.99 (Paperback)
A revolutionary uprising in a retirement home makes for an interesting concept for a novel. Adam Biles’s debut, Feeding Time, adds biting wit and sharp prose in to the mix to make a great page turner of a book.
The narrative shifts between the perspective of the residents, the staff, and the management of a care home, Green Oaks, owned by a large private conglomerate, West Church. We primarily see things from the perspective of Dot, a recent arrival at Green Oaks, who has moved there after sending her husband to the facility, only to find it doesn’t match her expectations: the wards are communal, the staff largely apathetic, and her husband is seemingly nowhere to be found. She’s given the bed of a missing resident, the mysterious Kalka, a presence (or lack thereof) that looms large throughout the novel. She finds herself surrounded by other residents, each with an eclectic range of ailments (with which they establish a sort of social hierarchy). The standout of this bunch is ‘Captain Ruggles’, a resident who views his surroundings as German prisoner of war camp, and who’s key moments in the novel range from laugh out loud absurd, to touchingly tragic.
The staff range from the lazy and the bored, who view the residents as an irritating burden, to the outright mean-spirited, as best personified by the character Tristan, who’s actions over the course of the story take him to a truly dark place. They take prescription drugs, play pranks on the residents, and largely contribute to, rather than confront, the decaying atmosphere of Green Oaks. The manager of the care home, Raymond Cornish, loathes the residents and takes every opportunity to avoid them, and indulge his ever more twisted sexual interests, culminating in a magnificently absurd and macabre series of scenes.
Feeding Time uses some interesting devices in its structure, such as entire pages with black background and white text to depict the residents talking through a ‘blackout’. A more frequent example is peppered throughout the novel – the excerpts of a pulp novel series, Air Souls, featuring short war stories depicting the adventures of Captain Ruggles (from whom the aforementioned eccentric resident seemingly draws his inspiration from), complete with ‘era appropriate’ advertisements. It is also important to note that this is largely a novel of conflicts, both external and internal. Characters battling against their ageing bodies (and the external perceptions of them), internalised angst or desires, or even just the horrific situations they find themselves in. Even Dot’s observations about an improvised game of Monopoly (the board having been chewed, and improvised playing pieces being used in place of the originals) between the residents (and the inner meaning of playing a game without end) conveys this, and the prose that Biles utilises grants some astonishing depth to this.
Biles doesn’t shy away from showing us the indignities of old age, but also depicts his elderly characters honestly and with respect. He treats conditions like dementia are treated with the amount of sympathy and honesty they deserve, his observations of the impact of corporate management on the care of the elderly are concise and sharp, and his characters show that there’s still some rebellious spirit left in us all, even at the very end. Galley Beggar Press have found another great new talent, and I really recommend you give this a look.