After ten years apart, three childhood friends meet again on Ynys Môn, the island on which they grew up, to make a pilgrimage to a site that bonds them all. On the way, they revisit locations haunted with memories and apparitions – village backstreets, an old school, a ruined mansion in the woods – and their visitations stir up powerful, sometimes disturbing emotions.
As with Hughes' earlier works, The Tower 2004 and Send My Cold Bones Home 2006, Revenant is set on the island of Ynys Môn (Anglesey) in north Wales. Though the town is not named, the novel's descriptions of local landmarks allow us to locate much of the novel in and around a strip of coast on the eastern edge of Ynys Môn, incorporating the seaside town of Beaumaris, and the villages of Llangoed and Penmon. The novel is structured in sections in which its characters narrate their inhabitation of distinct locales: "Town"; "The Monkey Woods"; "The Village"; "The School"; "The Coast"; "The Island"; "The Sea". Hughes in fact grew up nearby; in his interview with Literary Atlas, he discussed the reasons he chose to write about a place he knew:
Interview with Tristan Hughes – Setting Revenant in a Real Place
I think it was always a natural sort of setting for me in some ways because the first book I'd written was based here and I think the stimulus for me to start writing fiction, or to start publishing fiction, had come from my return here after I'd finished university. And whilst I'd sort of, you know, written stories as a kid and whatnot, I think that that impulse when I came back and somewhere that I thought I knew very well and I'd kind of grown up in suddenly seemed different and I think that seems to be a common thread really that often a kind of homecoming can kind of stimulate this imaginative encounter with a place that you've always taken for granted. And that returning to it suddenly reveals kind of new dimensions, I guess often new dimensions of yourself, you register the change in your own self, your own set of perceptions, by judging them against, a place or a landscape that you're familiar with and then find that it's not as familiar as you thought. And I think that that very much been a stimulus for me, to start writing. So that had happened with my first book and I think when it came to Revenant, there's all of those questions, all of that kind of fascination, all of that excitement, kind of creative excitement really about imagining or picturing or trying to express my relationship with that place, was still there and so that naturally fed into that book and, and fed into its vision or its version of the location.
Revenant reflects Hughes' interests in "imaginative encounters" with different "versions" of places, in particular the ways in which places can be powerfully inscribed with personal memory. The use of multiple narrative voices and shifts in timescale allows the novel to explore the sense in which places can be experienced by different people in different ways, can appear differently at different points in time, and can be haunted by past events.
The novel is narrated by three childhood friends who have reunited in the area in which they grew up. Two of the friends have returned from afar; Ricky, a troubled, cynical man who never met his travelling Irish father, has returned to the place he grew up having left Wales as a teenager. Steph, a beautiful girl from a middle class Beaumaris family, ran away from home aged fifteen, and is now returning for the first time. Shy, reserved Neil, however, has never left Ynys Môn – he still works in a local pub in Beaumaris. Each one of them is haunted by their own traumatic childhood experiences on the island, but also by their charismatic, magnetic childhood friend Del, who is a spectral presence in the novel.
There are three Revenant plotlines to explore: