"Chrysalis" by Edinburgh author Jeremy Welch is a highly readable and thoroughly engaging novel that follows the journey of one man, Sebastian, as he seeks to rediscover himself and make something of his life. Sebastian drifted into a highly-paid job in finance in London after leaving the army. He'd been a junior officer, but one wrong call while under fire in somewhere hot and dusty had catastrophic consequences, and now he's deeply averse to taking initiatives or decisions of any sort. He doesn't understand the world he finds himself in, and hates the people he works with, but the money comes in handy. Then he's fired from his job, and turns for advice to his ex-lover Zoe. She urges him to pick up the threads of his once strong ambition to become an author, and to finish the book he began to write as a student, many years earlier.
Sebastian takes up residence in part of a houseboat moored on a canal in the red-light district of Amsterdam. Others living on the boat are working up performances for a show in a travelling Spiegeltent called Chrysalis. Sebastian is quickly drawn into their world, finding friendship amd support among the performers. As the book progresses - perhaps that should be as both books progress, the one you are reading and the one he is writing - Sebastian becomes more aware of the sheer nastiness of the world inhabited by the sex-workers in the red-light district and the evil involved in the human trafficking that has brought many of them to the city. Sebastian surprises himself by trying to intervene to prevent the assault of a prostitute, and he then becomes steadily more concerned about her well being and her chances of escaping the life she is leading.
The title of the book, "Chrysalis", is the name of the Spiegeltent, but it also has echoes of the process Sebastian finds himself going through. The experience of living in Amsterdam changes him, for the better. But will he change enough to allow him to pursue the one thing he comes to realise he has truly wanted in life for a very long time? Sebastian's journey of rediscovery is set against the vibrancy and squalor of Amsterdam's red-light district, and against the background of his new friendships and old love. From a reader's point of view the story is beautifully told. Sebastian is an engaging, if initially rather frustrating, character, and the lives of those he meets and observes are beautifully drawn. Meanwhile the story gently builds to a conclusion that does not disappoint.