Australian author Kirsten Tranter’s second novel is as accomplished as her first ; she is a natural story-teller with a gift for language. The ‘common loss’ in the title refers to the shared bereavement of four young American men. On one level, their loss is the death of a close friend from university days. On a deeper level, all of the men – but particularly Elliot, the narrator – have lost a common understanding, the accepted view of their shared past.
The key to this change lies in the character of Dylan, the fifth member of the group. Dylan is the ghost at the feast, killed in a car accident in the decade after the men leave college. Although he only exists in the memories of his friends, his presence is a powerful one in the story. Elliot remembers him as ‘generous, inclusive, charming’, a kind and charismatic man who was always willing to help others. Brian, Cameron and Tallis remember Dylan as a blackmailer.
The conflict between these two opposing views lies at the heart of the novel. As his friends struggle to deal with the renewed threat of blackmail – Dylan’s secret knowledge did not die with him – Elliot must come to terms with a dramatically-changed version of the past. He has lost his idealized view of Dylan, and learnt that his beloved friends are guilty of behaviour that left them open to blackmail. He is no longer even sure of himself: ‘a world of unease opened in front of me … Everything had changed beyond recognition.’ Elliot himself has a secret that the blackmailer knows.
Kirsten Tranter has written an imaginative work about different kinds of loss: the loss of intimacy, the loss of trust, the loss of innocence. Read A Common Loss first and foremost for the delectable mystery – all those secrets and lies- but also as a meditation on friendship. What does it mean to us when we lose faith in our friends?