This is one of those curious books that you’re not sure whether you should continue reading, but do. It’s closer to literary fiction than SF, which it nods in the direction of, but, being written by a German, is nowhere near as dull or pretentious. In its style it’s close to that of Paulo Coehlo, with a sparse, intriguing voice rather than the overblown hyperbole of English literary fiction.
It’s an interesting character study of paranoia in the aftermath of an unnamed disaster as well as having a claustrophobic atmosphere. It isn’t a rollercoaster adventure that will have your heart in your mouth and have you eagerly turning pages, but one that you’ll turn the page of, curios about what happens next.
The story is told through the eyes of Michel, a young graduate who has been sent to a tower block for the very rich to guard it alongside Harry. He’s an old timer and paranoid about the world outside the garage where they live and work, obsessed with promotion to working at one of their clients houses in the countryside. They have their daily routines of patrol, clothes washing, bathing and eating, as well as searching the supplies van that turns up every few weeks.
The first appearance of the supplies van gives an insight into the paranoia. Harry and Michel draw their guns, waiting for the van to arrive, and keep both the driver and the rear doors covered, just in case there’s an assault team or a thief inside. The driver, in a substandard uniform and wearing trainers, takes this is his stride, acting calmly throughout. He gives them their box of supplies, which may or may not include corned beef, then leaves. Harry and Michel wonder how the organisation can employ someone who doesn’t have the same care in his appearance as the two of them.
Their uniform is another source of pride. Michel washes both sets each and every day and then keeps it ironed, as much as possible, in good order, repairing what needs to be repaired. They wear their hat at the correct angle and have their shoes clean.
One day all but one of the tenants leave, taking their cars with them. Even the hired staff who pamper to their needs leave. Only one tenant remains, and the guards see nothing of him. From this point on, the novel takes a much darker turn. A third guard turns up, light strips are removed and a search is made for the remaining tenant.
It ends happily for some, but not for others. Yet despite this, the paranoia remains while the darkness and emptiness of their lives doesn’t change.
The Guard is at once disturbing and at the same enlightening. As a character study it’s superb, as an insight into the darkness that lies, often times dormant, in us all it has few equals. But, whatever else you expect, don’t think this will be an easy or comfortable read. It isn’t. It is, however, worth the effort and the patience.