Summoned to an inquiry in Belfast, asking him to give testimony about his participation in a disastrous event during the Troubles, ailing ex-soldier and recovering alcoholic Stephen Rose, just beginning to build a fragile bond with the adult daughter he barely knows, must finally face the consequences of his actions.
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.