A fearless faith in fiction — Employing, since 2008, a Kantian or Jungian sensibility and an ‘intentional fallacy’ consciousness — Various passions of the reading moment — Walter de la Mare, ELizabeth BOWen, ROBERT aiCKMAN and many others old and new — Please click my name below for this site’s navigation and my backstory as intermittent photographer, writer, editor, publisher & reviewer.
No spoilers, hopefully, as I go through.
Iain Rowan, who once appeared in Nemonymous with his first published story has been reviewed by me before…
“I do not know what would have happened. Or rather, I do.”
A perfectly pitched, achingly stylish yet spare, beginning, as medical student Anna twenty something, with breasts that move, from North Ossetia, gains our attention with her predicament, working in Burger Bars in UK with an evercircling dirty mop, amid the dirty trade in enslaved peoples, and the bad and good people she meets, and then we follow her as a sudden pivot in her fate seems to turn…
I am utterly captivated and miraculously already know – in such a relatively short space – Anna herself and the fell ambiance around her.
Chapters Two & Three
“My hands moved, my brain worked, and I did the things that I had been trained to do and I did them well. After weeks of turning burgers over and pouring coke, I felt good to be doing what I was good at.”
Anna, during a student’s practical, and with flashes from her pre-England past that she shares with us, I never question how easily and effectively she describes – by using on us a telling English – the events around her. A world of more circling mops, drunks who weave circular paths home, the rounding up of overstayers, and her own indecisive back and forth decisions with or without an old fashioned A to Z book… “You do what you have to do, I thought to myself. You do what you have to do.” This is Anna’s gripping story, but not necessarily by weaving her own web, but being bargained into another’s web, to be enabled to seem real, real upon these concocted papers. And real she surely feels. Like one of us. In a sanctuary from danger provided by the place we know or think we know, a sanctuary full of it own dangers and potential removals….“Life lived as furniture.”
Another Rowan: Driving in Circles
Chapters Four & Five
“I put his shoulder back where it should be.
‘No lollipop for you,’ I said.”
I simply knew this work would be something special. And it is. Anna’s being exploited takes even direr turns, her ability to stand up for what is right matched by her pragmaticism. Exploitation and the pecking order of the exploiters and whom she might trust, conundrums as to her duties of discreet medick and the vilely abused woman she tends, a woman looking literally round the world towards her child….
“…and she stared past me into the distance, through the dusty flowers on the wallpaper, through the damp plaster and the crumbling brick and out, across the land and over the cold grey of the sea and then on to land again, where she saw him, playing with some toy cars.”
Circling them on some East European carpet, no doubt? One of the unconsoled?
And Anna’s potentially kinder, even potentially ‘affectionate’, sort of taxi-driver man?…she cautiously stands her ground against him. We are out in the cold with her, too. We readers need shoulders to lean on, I guess. Or to BE leaned on? We all need our lollipops.
“You can also buy me coffee, while the washing goes round.”
Chapters Six & Seven
“She told me over the phone, while I stood in a phone box in a city I did not know, in a country that was not my own, and I cried because he was dead,…”
This is a tale of a Stranger in a Strange Land, The Wanderer, The Unconsoled Under Lowry’s (unseen) Volcano. One of us in physical and spiritual quarantine from the rest of us …all of us, eventually, to become strangers unto ourselves. Looking into a window from the cold outside, seeing others inside having a traditional Christmas, “children there, racing around like mad,…”
The text upped the dosage or changed the dosage, then “travelling at the same slow speed as the rest of the world.”
Crying as an act of ugliness, its slugtracks of tears….
Meanwhile, amid any such freewheeling thoughts of mine, Anna is in this strange, inimical world, discovering a little more about each character through their actions and words, the tensions or opportunities between them, and I sense an undertow or gestalt as part of their machinations….
Chapters Eight to Twelve
“Elena moved with the same jerky quickness that Michael did then, like film of a puppet, speeded up.”
I felt growing anxiety nearing the end of these chapters, thinking about a crucial hidden surveillance recorder beeping an alert as it reaches towards the end of its tape…between slowing down or speeding up.
I felt anxiety, too, as our Anna plots with Elena and Sean, her plot of selfless justice and vengeance forming the plot of this book – three characters, plus the more dubious catalyst Daniel from time to time, characters who build their presence via Anna’s telling us about them amongst the rest of her story or is she telling her dead brother Aleksey about her future life in England (a future that is now her present and his never) by means of this reader’s intermittent suspended projection of text as a seeming novel’s narration?
Chapters Thirteen to Seventeen
“Trust me, you can spend your life chasing.”
From a block order for cheesy burgers to the nature of murdered bodies to today’s habits of Internet users in public libraries, the plot does meanwhile take a twist or turn like a crash of many bottles being tipped abruptly into a bottle bank. I admire Anna’s attempt to stay loyal to her friends and fulfil her quest for vengeance against the world she has found herself in. Sometimes emotional, finding low-dive places where fate can continue its domino rally, and guessing at things to say in crucial set-up conversations with crooks, and sometimes she is clinical. Diving deep or diving low, we follow.
“He pushed my arms up from my sides, ran his hands over my body. There was nowhere that he did not touch me, but there was not anywhere that he lingered, and his touch felt like that of a doctor, confident and professional, with permission to be where it was.”
Chapters Eighteen & Nineteen
”So I just walked around the city, looking at faces.”
After a warfare with spat upon burgers amid the urgent world of pizza deliveries ….Searching for faces, one in particular with a vital recording, we still follow Anna, her still agonising about a romantic alliance, but who can she really depend on? A nagging portrait of a place and era, and those pierced Gothicks and those who skin joints like brain surgeons. That world we all wonder whether one day we shall end up or where we once were, but, whatever the case, we are all strangers in a strange and worrying world. Metal albums continuously being played to see if you can hear voices in its background, telling you even more about things you do not want to face.
“Tell me you’re winding me up.”
“We passed a launderette with dead flies in the window and one old woman in, sitting staring at the machine.”
Chapters Twenty to Twenty-Eight
“Everyone had names, and a place that they were from, but none of these things mattered any more, and you never knew if the names and places were true or a story anyway.”
I could not resist the compelling page-turning final scenes in a single sitting of reading. A perfect denouement using the characters it had given me to know. Gangsterish and fateful and exciting, and eventually telling. An Anna moment that I sense lasts forever. Now one of us. A baggy tunic to hide her body, or the ability to cover blankness with something then make it blank again and then covered with something else, around and around … or a game of dots covering the blankness of the page in which I see the picture that was hid heretofore, if not an orange sun over a yellow cornfield, after all.
“The city moved around me, people living their own lives and not caring about mine. I was like the road sign or the pavement, just there, part of the city, one tiny broken piece and no-one would notice if I was gone.”
A portrait of a way of life that will haunt you. And a crafted story that will hang about, too, on the wall like a window on darkness.
“It was something I didn’t know, with lots of bass. It sounded like music from the future.”