Review: We Are Here – Michael Marshall

Ashley Chhibber 4 March 2013

When John Henderson agrees to help his partner investigate a shady individual stalking her friend, he stumbles upon a world populated by insubstantial, fractured people forgotten by their loved ones, willing to take drastic measures to feel whole again.

The primary plotline of We Are Here, whilst intriguing and based around a strong central premise, is too slow to begin. Initially, Michael Marshall’s prose is extremely convoluted, a situation exacerbated by Marshall’s apparent reliance on italics and underlining to add appropriate emphasis.

Until approximately one-third of the way through the book, the ‘key concept’ is mentioned so obscurely and obliquely that Marshall can barely retain the reader’s interest. Although the idea is not difficult to grasp, he unnecessarily holds back from an explicit revelation for a further 150 pages: this is tantalisation taken a step too far. Nevertheless, the plot itself is well thought-out and largely gripping by way of its execution: the intertwining of storylines and disjointed narratives are neither confusing nor distracting, but pique the reader’s interest.

Despite this, Marshall’s characters are not properly developed until relatively late in the novel, with fundamental traumatic episodes mentioned only in passing. For example, the protagonist, John, describes a self-evidently harrowing event with a cold nonchalance, stating: “I used to have two young sons. Still do have one” and “truly bad things happened to us, especially the death of our older son, Scott.” It could be imagined that the first person narrative would allow Marshall to explore his character’s emotions in greater depth, but John’s contrived lack of emotion does not convince. As the book progresses, raw emotion makes an appearance, and Marshall deals particularly well with the discovery of a long-awaited pregnancy, but there is little to grab the reader’s sympathy to begin with.

Some critics have referred to Marshall as a new Stephen King. Some aspects of We Are Here feel slightly derivative of King’s Blaze. However, Marshall’s is a very different concept, and it is unfortunate that the similarity is so immediately noticeable. Despite this, the comparison is a generally favourable one, and doing Marshall no harm at all.

In my opinion, it requires a high level of readerly commitment to work through the difficult and unrewarding first half of We Are Here in order to be rewarded by the thrilling second half. If you’re looking for immediate gratification, or for a page-turner you can’t put down, then this might not be the book for you, but big fans of the thriller genre should certainly give it a chance.

Ashley Chhibber