A looping tale within a tale about a boy, a girl, and the search for love in a world where words are meaningless.
As Nicol invites readers into dreams and memories cobbled into a Möbius strip, there’s little sense of what’s real and what’s not. The first of seven segments suggests that the novel will concern schoolboy Paul Garner and the enchanting Bethany Dean, who tragically dies young, while they explore love. They write and perform a school play, but as other segments are introduced, the narrative shifts and the play vanishes, then reappears, confusing readers about which part is “real” and which part is just something the “author” (a character in the story) wrote. First, the narrator, Paul, turns into Daniel Bikker, a gravedigger; then, Daniel becomes Jonathan Prack, Bethany’s brother. Meanwhile, Bethany has become Megan, who sometimes turns into Tyamka, whom Jonathan calls a sea angel, protected by her dog, Bizra. Other characters go through similar shifts. Readers are told that progress “is a word with meaning only for its users.” Maybe so, but as a literary technique, that lack of clear progress can make for tedious reading. The sense of disconnect this mannered style cultivates might generate indifference to the characters’ fates. Characters wander through moors. They explore grottoes. They love the ocean. They enter houses and sit. They are kind to each other. Still, a few recurring items and events—a visit, a walk, a room, drawing, gardens, blue fish, tea, etc.—tie the book together in different scenes with similar dialogue creating similar situations. Repeated sentences rearrange the hero’s attempts to revisit reality—he may be psychotic, in a coma or dreaming—and sometimes the “author” appears, occasionally accompanied by bureaucrats, doctors or other authority figures. Lyrical prose—“I have doubts of resolution and fears of being lost in times and places I do not understand; they loom before me, obscuring my path and threatening diversion in directions I do not trust”—provides a bit of direction, but that might not be enough for some readers.
Elegant but bewildering.