Miller’s novel subtly and morosely explores the crisis of Englishness that ties together events of the 20th century with those of the 21st ... The ironies of Rose’s shortcomings — the failure to reconcile his own ideology, how his account offers no dialogue and centers his own voice, how he tasks his daughter with being his reason to live while telling others that 'she owes me nothing' — make this book not only nuanced and affecting but historiographical. It reads truer than memoir ... As a device, the letter is problematic, especially when Rose details events and conversations his daughter was present for (and when he describes sex stains he and her mother left on the carpet). Another problem is that Rose...writes like a novelist, albeit one I am recommending ... But the unbroken personal account gives us access to a beautifully fraught psyche ... His story becomes a state-of-the-nation novel, in elegiac prose.
Mr. Miller, with his acute eye for detail and his practiced sense of timing, describes these Belfast streets and this soldier’s experience so plainly and yet so evocatively that both become new again. We enter rather than observe the picture he paints ... While Mr. Miller is too subtle a writer to make us hope for this hero’s redemption, we can at least cheer on his hard-won survival.
In virtually all of Miller’s novels, the protagonists are in a similarly intractable predicament. A past experience has derailed them so comprehensively that they’re stuck inside 'some interminable aftermath' ... [The] theoretical underpinning is not matched by what happens at the end of the books. There, the intractability abruptly dissolves and the 'interminable aftermath' terminates, as the protagonists achieve the kind of self-understanding that both they and Miller had so convincingly dismissed as impossible ... What on earth’s going on with the apparent failure of Miller’s novels to practice what both he and they preach? ... In Miller’s new novel these tendencies are, if anything, more marked than ever ... The Slowworm’s Song offers plenty to admire—thanks, inevitably, to its strong traditional narrative ... He exhibits his usual attention to striking detail ... [Stephen] becomes the latest Miller protagonist to make a single-leap escape from intractable inarticulacy to lucidity ... The question of that first-person narration ... As I noted, this is the first time Miller has tried it—and, as he has admitted, 'it may be the last. I found it a struggle. And I still feel unsure about the voice, whether I pitched it [right]' for someone who’s 'not a highly educated man.' It’s difficult to disagree with his misgivings.
Bolder and more exquisitely menacing than anything he’s done before ... A peculiarly moving account of casual youthful error, and of the hell that such errors can send us to ... Miller delineates the details of life in an urban barracks ... He conjures the fear and the confusion of being out on patrol ... So, what happened in Belfast? What did Stephen do? The revelation, when it comes, is unsensational: a pitiful, inadvertent atrocity, and all the more shocking for that ... At the level of the sentence, the writing is near perfect. But the novel’s excellence goes far beyond this. There’s a depth and a sweetness, a gravity, to Stephen’s simplest observations ... Miller’s last novel didn’t make the Booker list, but this restrained, beautifully written apologia for our common frailty surely should.
... traumatic yet beautiful ... a moving work about the need to atone for past wrongs, the value of second chances for those lucky enough to attempt them and the possibility of finding kindness in the unlikeliest sources.
Miller is always an elegant writer, but the graceful tone of this novel jars with what we know of the narrator ... In demonstrating that performative empathy is ultimately an exercise in vapidity, Andrew Miller places a deeply disturbing truth at the heart of this troubling novel.
What readers might question is Miller’s ventriloquism. Stephen, we learn, flunked his A-Levels, joined the army, and served in Germany and Northern Ireland. Is this introspective, elegiac voice that of an alcoholic ex-squaddie ... Perhaps this question matters less than that of whether one wants to spend 280 pages in his company, from which there is no escape: The Slowworm’s Song is a novel without dialogue ... With all the scenes relayed in Stephen’s voice, the prose has an unremitting quality ... There is no easy resolution, and that is why The Slowworm’s Song, despite the unvarying voice – or indeed because of it – is so affecting. It is about truth, objective or otherwise, and about the attempts of flawed human beings to live with it.
An interesting premise underpins this novel ... Miller keeps the reader in suspense about what his protagonist did on that summer day in Ardoyne, a deprived, nationalist area of north Belfast. But readers have their suspicions ... Readers will experience varying reactions to this key character, whose perspective is the one through which events are presented ... Miller’s world-building is utterly convincing ... Although there is much to absorb readers, the ending felt premature. Clearly, Miller made a conscious decision to conclude his narrative where he did. But a glimpse of what lay ahead...would have been possible without altering the novel’s central thrust.
I spent the first half of The Slowworm’s Song in a sort of ecstasy, marvelling at Miller’s masterful characterisation ... But halfway through, disaster of the literary kind strikes. What’s the readerly equivalent of watching TV through your fingers? Well, it was like that, and not in a good way. Miller succumbs to the classic pitfall of the epistolary form — the letter-writer can’t plausibly describe the recipient’s own actions to them ... Stephen is an unforgettable character, and Miller has pulled off the miraculous feat of sketching a full human life in a few hundred pages. But as a whole The Slowworm’s Song confirms my impression of its author as slightly hit and miss: a novelist not entirely in control of his very considerable talent.
Andrew Miller is one of our finest writers. Few can match his sensitivity of touch, eye for telling detail and acute feel for setting ... The passages in The Slowworm’s Song describing Rose’s military duty are impeccably researched and viscerally real ... Unfortunately, The Slowworm’s Song is not as outstanding as its predecessor. There are problems with the depiction of its central character ... In his refined sensibilities and profound insight, Rose is rather too close to his creator ... Moreover, the framing of the story around the letter and the deferred details of the dreadful incident in Rose’s past seem insufficient support for the novel’s sprawling character study of his troubled inner world – though it must be said that the narrative’s digressions do faithfully reflect his personal chaos.
Painful yet beautiful ... Miller is a wonderful storyteller, as comfortable writing about the Napoleonic wars as the Troubles. Other authors love him, and he deserves more readers. In this novel, Stephen’s reckoning may be extreme but his message is universal.
Sections detailing Stephen’s army life, and particularly those covering his tour of duty in Belfast, are excellent: immersive in their detail and atmosphere ... The novel feels rudderless after the traumatic event is finally recounted, but gets back on track when the Commission renews its efforts to persuade Stephen to attend a special hearing ... Andrew Miller...has sufficient decorum, talent and sensitivity to do justice to his delicate subject matter.
The novel’s epistolary form proves fitting. It is both quiet and introspective in its treatment of Stephen’s back story. Accustomed to silence from his childhood, he is a vulnerable and haunted lead ... Figurative language is used to convey his obsession with a past that’s too murky to comprehend ... An exquisite, tender novel that insists on the dignity of others, The Slowworm’s Song follows a father’s attempts to reconcile with his daughter—and his attempts to understand his own past.
Miller renders character and setting in immersive, everyday details with highlights of poetic imagery ... Examining broadly relevant topics—namely the complexity of war, in which the line between innocents and enemies becomes blurred—this is a moving, beautifully written portrait of a legacy of shame, loss, and regret from one traumatic, morally ambiguous moment.
Moving and insightful ... The novel’s evocation of that time and place is cinematically clear, and the narrative revolves around [a] single dread-filled moment. But Stephen’s daily life, in all its middle-aged dreariness and incidental sweetness, is just as sharply drawn, as is his sojourn in the rehab center that sets him on his unsteady feet again and heading back to Belfast ... This immensely skillful novel suspends the reader, too, in that mysterious midway state. A moving drama of trauma and recovery.
Meditative if diffuse ... The dramatic highlights do not exert quite enough pull to sustain the novel’s tension ... There’s a lot driving this affecting exploration of truth and reconciliation, but it doesn’t quite hang together.