The Names of Things

The Names of Things, by John Colman Wood

I was intrigued by the synopsis of The Names of Things and eager to read it as soon as it was released. If you’re looking for the antidote to the shallow, summer paperback brigade, this book will not disappoint.

This is the story of a widowed anthropologist who travels back to the Dasse people of Africa where he and his wife lived many years ago. The narrative is marked by a consuming quietness; it draws you in effortlessly. The main characters–the anthropologist and his wife–are not named. The dialogue, where it sparsely occurs, reflects the anthropologist’s inability to express his grief and confusion. You move through the book at his side, an outsider to the Dasse people, observing, learning the power of the landscape and the predators that surround them, but never truly understanding their spirit. The anthropologist’s search for an unknown catharsis becomes your own, and the draw of it pulls you forward.

The ending, unlike most books I’ve read lately, does what every great book should do; it surprises you and yet, upon reflection, feels like it’s been building through the whole text, a hypnotic simmer that has finally come to boil.