Review: Fill the Gaps by Andrew Johnston

Review originally published on Reedsy Discovery.

Johnston’s Fill the Gaps is an interesting novel following a period of time in protagonist Issac’s life. I wouldn’t call it a downfall, despite Issac experiencing seedy and criminal lows, because from the beginning Issac is an unlikeable and infuriating character (credit to Johnston’s writing).

Issac is obnoxious, hideously ignorant of his own behaviour and his impact on others, and selfish. Struggling to make ends meet in an apartment with two friends, equally struggling with their lives, passions and jobs, Issac causes a glimmer of sympathy at first. Johnston’s narrative is reminiscent of Salinger’s Holden in Catcher in the Rye (hence the somewhat marmite quaility of Fill the Gaps). This style of storytelling is addictive, you become just as wrapped up in Issac as he is himself, albeit furious with him for the majority of the novel. This said, Issac is brazenly human. This is probably why I find him frustrating, but secretly identified with him at times, much like a reader does with Holden Caulfield.

The introduction of Cullen (a mysterious, law-breaking yet quite sweet and wise character) shifts our perspective of Issac. A reader finds themselves sympathising with the amoral Cullen over a desperate Issac, credit once again to Johnston’s writing. This is when Issac comes apart and the spiral quickens. Our patience runs thinner and thinner. And this is where I began to feel a little disappointed with the narrative.

I understand why Issac never learns but I was desperately hoping for development and as the novel closes, the characterisation stagnates. Each chapter feels as if it repeats an earlier cycle. And perhaps this is Johnston’s point. Perhaps this is the very point of the novel’s title. Fill the Gaps is just a snapshot much like Catcher in the Rye was. The difference being, however, that Salinger uncovers Holden in his entirety and the novella ends with a three-dimensional and sympathetic character who we can love and hate in equal measure. With Issac, I was sick of him, tired of him.

Thus, even though I appreciate Johnston’s style and perhaps the attempt at analysing the human condition, the closing chapters lack a quality which would have made this book memorable and our tolerance of Issac worth it.


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