Batlava Lake

Adam Mars-Jones

French paperback with flaps, 104 pages
Published 23 June 2021

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Pristina, Kosovo, 1999. Barry Ashton, recently divorced, has been deployed as a civil engineer attached to the Royal Engineers corps in the British Army. In an extraordinary feat of ventriloquism, Adam Mars-Jones constructs a literary story with a thoroughly unliterary narrator, and a narrative that is anything but comic through the medium of a character who, essentially, is. Exploring masculinity, class and identity, Batlava Lake is a brilliant story of men and war by one of Britain’s most accomplished writers.

‘No one inhabits character as intensely and subtly as Mars-Jones. Batlava Lake is therefore completely convincing as an everyman narrative – we know people exactly like Barry Ashton, and may even be exactly like him – but there’s a larger truth here too, about clashes of cultures and history, that make this an important and highly recommended book.’
— Lee Child

‘Barry is a man with no friends and little sense of wonder, who’s better with things than with people, and who can’t see through the detail to what’s really going on…. And when we finally find out what he’s been skirting around, it all fits together precisely, and we look back in wonder at how we got from there to here without being able to see the join. Mars-Jones, it turns out, is an expert engineer himself. And much better at people than poor old Barry.’
John Self, Observer

‘Mars-Jones is a master of the telling detail … and his increasing use of exclamation marks throughout the book heightens the sense that Barry is living in denial, like Colin in the equally excellent Box Hill, and that we are only hearing one side of the story. It’s an exquisite feat, a complicated character unravelled with simple language: Mars-Jones can do more in a hundred pages than most writers can do in a thousand.’
Joshua Rees, Buzz Magazine

‘There is something of a tradition of the novella-with-a-dark-twist in British fiction … it isn’t until the very last pages that we can be sure what we’ve just read. But even then, the effect Mars-Jones creates is not that of a twist or revelation but a confirmation of a presentiment for which we’ve been subtly, expertly primed.’
Nikhil Krishnan, The Telegraph

‘Barry is a clever, funny and anecdotal narrator, and on one level this book is a cracking read. It is also written with a sharp social observation that could easily have made it an exercise in applied snobbery, but Barry is not just the butt of Mars-Jones’s condescension. The overall stance is more like compassion, which makes Batlava Lake a more complex and ultimately rather beautiful book.’
Phil Baker, The Times

‘Mars-Jones’s considerable strength as a storyteller lies in his ability to inhabit the inner lives of his characters so intimately…. In Batlava Lake, the fictional nature of his writing is underlined by subtle turns and curious narrative omissions, casting a shadow on Barry’s reliability as a narrator…. Mars-Jones manages to do an exceptional job of conveying the horrors of war for such a short novel, using its brevity to the story’s advantage while drawing an inconspicuous but hard-hitting portrait of political collapse.’
Zehra Kazmi, The Arts Desk

‘As a dark satire of 1990s liberal interventionism and the blithe ignorance that in reality underlay many peacekeeping missions, Batlava Lake is a suitably coruscating and intricately constructed piece of work.’
Lucian Robinson, Times Literary Supplement

Batlava Lake is a sophisticated performance in which it can be difficult to determine where Mars-Jones himself is…. A comedy about an Englishman abroad as well as a war novel by the back door, Batlava Lake offers an elegiac snapshot of a moment in recent history that feels much longer ago.’ 
— Anthony Cummins, Literary Review

‘Mars-Jones delivers a wry and offbeat story of a civilian man stationed in Pristina, the capital city of Kosovo, during the Kosovo War…. Mars-Jones’s intensely comical depiction of a thoroughly British state of mind makes this a hoot.’
— Publishers Weekly

‘I’ve known and worked with people like Barry Ashton, people who valiantly attempt to become two-dimensional examples of humanity via a steady application of “rationality”…. It is to Mars-Jones’s credit that he is able to restore Barry’s tragic third-dimension and by so doing highlight Barry’s significant moral failings.’
— The Book Beat

Praise for Box Hill

‘I very much enjoyed Box Hill. It is a characteristic Mars-Jones mixture of the shocking, the endearing, the funny and the sad, with an unforgettable narrator. The sociological detail is as ever acutely entertaining.’
— Margaret Drabble

‘A tender exploration of the love that truly dare not speak its name – that between master and slave. On his eighteenth birthday, Colin literally stumbles upon a strapping biker twice his age, and falls into a long-term relationship characterised by devotion, mystery, and submission. In plain unadorned prose, Mars-Jones shows us the tender, everyday nature of this. Self-deprecating, sad, and wise.’
— Fiona McGregor

Box Hill is not a novel for the prudish, but it is a masterclass in authorial control…. Despite its diminutive length, it is rich with detail and complexity, and has plenty to demonstrate Mars-Jones’s well-deserved place on any list of our best.’
— Alex Nurnberg, Sunday Times

‘An exquisitely discomfiting tale of a submissive same-sex relationship … perfectly realized.’
— Anthony Cummins, Observer

Adam Mars-Jones’ first collection of stories, Lantern Lecture, won a Somerset Maugham Award in 1982, and he appeared on Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists lists in 1983 and 1993. His debut novel, The Waters of Thirst, was published in 1993 by Faber & Faber. It was followed by Pilcrow (2008) and Cedilla (2011), which form the first two parts of a semi-infinite novel series. His essay Noriko Smiling (Notting Hill Editions, 2011) is a book-length study of a classic of Japanese cinema, Yasujiro Ozu’s Late Spring. His memoir Kid Gloves was published by Particular Books in 2015. He writes book reviews for the LRB and film reviews for the TLS.