Tim Finch’s Peace Talks is a meditative book about love and loss. The story is framed around a series of peace talks in a luxurious hotel in the Austrian mountains. But this is all a bit of a bait and switch on Finch’s part as the narrative slowly comes into focus around its narrator coming to terms with his own losses.
Edvard Behrends is an international negotiator. His skill lies in his patient temperament, in bringing violent, opposing factions to some form of agreement. When the book opens Edvard is in the middle of delicate negotiations between two such factions, each eager to show the other to be more barbarous in an ongoing conflict that has torn their country apart. But Edvard’s heart is not completely in it. Or rather, it is elsewhere, as he tells the story of the negotiations to his wife. The book slowly changes focus between the subtle, lengthy negotiations to an even more subtle unravelling of Edvard’s life and the tragedy that sits at its centre.
Edvard is a self-aware, determinedly solitary narrator. But this is a state that has come to him following the death of his wife. And a state that he avoids thinking about by submerging himself in his work as chief negotiator, a position that while supported by staff, is one in which he can remove himself from the action. And while he claims not to be consciously telling a story “with a discernible shape, with a narrative arc etc”, the story carefully and skilfully teases out its revelations and secrets, delivering a few emotional gut punches along the way.
Peace Talks is a quietly observed novel that is as much about what is in the heart of one man as it is about what it might take to create peace in the world. The conclusion it seems to draw is that all of these processes are ineffable, that things happen and decisions are made that are beyond our control or understanding and the best we can do is try and make sense of them and keep moving forward.