A mysterious manuscript tells the story of one man’s plunge into the abyss.
To quote Winston Churchill, welcome to a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Campbell offers a wicked metafictional mystery in this slim but artful debut novel. Try to follow along. In an introduction, the author says he received the mysterious manuscript, containing transcripts of three cassette tapes, in 2006. The tapes had been transcribed by Amrapali Anna Singh, a professor of archival studies in Alaska, at the request of a man named Pierre Cavey, who had very nearly circled the world to bring her the tapes, marked with the stamp of a library in Buenos Aires. Then we get to the tapes themselves, which chronicle the journey of an unnamed American journalist. The first depicts a hallucinatory voyage into the bayou on a snake-hunting expedition. The second reveals a little more. A friend of the journalist explains that his search for meaning in the world is a search for “The City of Dreams”—a myth that connects dreams to a place from various historical sources, with examples from Cortés to Dr. Livingstone’s ill-fated voyage. “The point is, it’s a myth—a mirage in the margins of conjecture and hearsay,” the narrator is told. And indeed, the narrator becomes obsessed with finding the mysterious destination, traveling from Kowloon to Mongolia. Finally, in the third tape, the narrator travels to Istanbul to meet “The Turk,” a mysterious chess champion who has more questions than answers. “You have gone around the world collecting the most odd of odd things—experiences of a fantastic order...in a swamp with an old man, in a desert filled with tents and in the belly of a fallen city,” says the Turk. “Tell me, are you chasing your dreams?” Campbell’s afterword offers little explanation other than his abortive attempts to find out the identity of the narrator, but the experience of reading the book remains arresting.
A dizzying epistolary novel about dreams, perception, and the human psyche.