"An unsettling, profound and richly conceived fable for fans of complex, intellectual fantasy."– Kirkus Reviews
For a mercenary with a dark history, survival looks more and more like rebirth in this bloody yet hopeful story that sets a lone protagonist adrift on a plane rife with exotic forces and entities.
When a poison-coated arrow pierces his skin, a horseback ride through a dystopian Mexican desert turns sour for Moses Stern, who was sent as a courier for several theological edicts. He becomes the target of witches who hope to use him as a proxy to destroy the dragons they so hate. What follows is a convoluted but enthralling tale of Stern’s adventure as he transitions into another plane of existence: the watery plane of Okeanus, home to thousands of islands, peoples and languages. Like Earth, the plane is beset by an imbalance of indeterminate origins but serious consequences, an infestation of blue-back dragons; tasked with traveling through Okeanus, he seeks the magus Bedwyr for a solution. His journey leads him not only to Bedwyr, but through countless encounters with the various inhabitants of this strange land. Now a shape-shifter, Stern makes use of his heretofore unknown power of bodily alteration as he attempts to escape the multiple antagonistic forces that pursue him. While alliances are formed and dissolved, loves found and lost, Stern eventually meets with the demon Kokabiel, who grants him the ability to understand any language spoken in Okeanus and, thus, to cast important spells; he also gives Stern a stone with which he can open portals to different worlds, including his own—Earth. This power is startling, but the resolution of his quest forces him to make an even more startling decision. Composed of a series of many deftly interlocked episodes, the novel traces its arc to an unpredictable but satisfying conclusion. Harvey’s prose is regal and textured, and the background mythology is exceptionally formed, fusing fantasy, sci-fi and allegory to a haunting illusion.
An unsettling, profound and richly conceived fable for fans of complex, intellectual fantasy.
A mild-mannered scholar confronts his woman problems by delving into the mythic landscape of the south of France in this searching psychological novel.
Karl Wisent, a 30-ish German man living in Paris in the early 1990s, is writing a book about Nietzsche, but his life couldn’t be more un-Nietzschean. He’s thoroughly under the thumb of domineering women, from the censorious nuns at the Catholic girls’ school where he teaches to his estranged wife Heike, who lives in Berlin and has denied him sex for years. He finally takes–or rather is taken by–a mistress, HÃ©lÃ¨ne, who is firmly in charge in bed and out. She makes it clear that he’s just a â€œcontingent lover” for once-a-week trysts to relieve the tedium of routine sex with her live-in boyfriend. Weighed down by feelings of passivity and alienation, Karl retreats to a chateau in the countryside near Avignon, where he’s surrounded by symbols of an older, more authentic way of life. He takes in Stone Age cave paintings, communes with a peasant family and helps out with farm chores at a local monastery. He’s soon swarmed by a cosmopolitan group of semi-invited houseguests, including Heike and her new boyfriend, and finds himself the odd man out in their sexual roundelay. But he does participate fully in the party’s endless informal symposium, which ranges across such brow-furrowing topics as Greek, Egyptian, Icelandic and Hebrew mythology, the evolution of consciousness, the immortality of the soul and the sublimated cannibalism rite we call Christianity. As Karl applies all this lore to his anguished psyche, the book sometimes reads like a cross between Joseph Campbell and Freud. (One bevy of latter-day maenads advises Karl to project â€œthe spirit of the bull” if he wants to satisfy a woman.) But Harvey writes with a subtle, evocative realism that keeps the ruminations grounded in the characters and their everyday travails.
An absorbing tale in which the quest for self-knowledge packs a lot of emotional resonance.
A collection of poems that reflects on our basic aloneness in this life.
The poems in Sea Snails are poems of ideas rather than of emotions–meditative, philosophical and preoccupied with isolation and solitude. Harvey (Petroglyphs, 2008, etc.) uses two recurring images–the snail and the shipwrecked sailor–to explore our solitary plight on earth. Poems such as â€œLife on the Under Leaf” and â€œThe Myth of the Snail” argue that our journey is like that of the snail–long, solitary and fixed, every day a limited journey â€œfrom the rose leaf / to the yard’s loam / alone.” At the same time, the collection draws comparisons between our lives and that of a shipwrecked sailor, left to struggle alone on a deserted island and to try to reach out for others with a message that may or may not be understood or answered–if found at all. In addition to snails, these poems are peopled with literal sailors, writers and readers–individuals who identify their aloneness and yet seek solace in myth-making, ascribing to the familiar belief that we create stories to explain away chaos, bond with others and protect ourselves from the finite experience that is life. While Harvey can be commended for tapping into universal questions about our existence and for experimenting with form–including poems that range from haiku to narrative prose, ultimately this variety in form cannot distract from the fact that, by the book’s end–these two themes have been reworked so many times that its message becomes diluted and trite. More thematic variation would be welcome, so that readers don’t grow weary of an otherwise valuable sentiment.
A collection with an admirable intent.
A rounded menagerie of naturalistic poems, many holding mythic resonance.
The first poetry collection from Harvey (Vogel and the White Bull, 2009, etc.) looks to nature and the past for an explanation of the perennial ways of man. Deadly serious and brimming with short, free-verse treatments of creation stories, whether of biblical, Egyptian or Shamanistic origin, these painterly poems present many suggestive scenes against some less-engaging thematic backdrops. Apart from the work’s title–which enticingly conjures up the mysteries of ancient civilizations whose prelanguage rock engravings we are still trying to decipher–and use of the term â€œrevenant”–so recurrent one expects Harvey’s vaguely undead to appear as vividly as in A Christmas Carol–the effect of the volume as a whole is unmemorable. For example, â€œLa Parole” takes a moment from the present then rather heavy-handedly summons practically the entire history of human communication: â€œThe night hums with a heat / that embraces southern stars / that glitter above moist haze. / She in a word is a revenant / who escapes her captivity [â€¦] Soon, the caravans / congregate / and translate / the runes and hieroglyphs / of Babel.” More successful are a series of three â€œwolf” poems which explore the ravages of aging and vagaries of human relations through the metaphor of the uncivilized pack, and shorter works like â€œSmoothest Stone,” with its sharp Platonic conclusion–â€œThe smoothest stone weighs / heavy in the bed of a trout’s stream. / Silver scales shimmer / sanded by breathless time, / a spear’s head thrust into being, / resting on our meridian”–and â€œCouple,” which provocatively depicts a post-Eden Adam and Eve â€œtwitching / from a palsy / of self-involvement.”
A thoughtful and sometimes thought-provoking mixed bag of philosophic musings.