My rating: 4 of 5 stars
How to describe this book… If someone asked Gaiman to rewrite the concept of Narnia and plonked it bang-smack-in-the-middle of Sophie’s World AFTER Sophie had grown up and discovered sex, perhaps you’d get somewhere close.
This book was like several in one. At times I could have been back at university, reading my text books on literary theory, getting lost in the head-screw that only a combination of philosophy, psychology and quantum physics can create. At these times I regularly had to stop to think over what I’d just read. I had to consult old text books – and the Google-Gods – to make some semblance of sense of the words on the page. I had to make notes continuously in order to grasp a hold of those fleeting moments of understanding that play in the corner of your vision and never centre screen. I wrote reams in these moments – which naturally led to a stilted, stop-start reading of the book.
And then there were other moments. The ones during which I was absorbed in a narrative so seamless, so involving, that on more than one occasion returning to the real world was like coming out of a trance. I got lost in this book, lost in Ariel Manto’s mind, lost in her Troposphere. Twice I came to from reading on the train with no idea whether I’d actually missed my stop and was on my way to Reading. I didn’t even register when other passengers got on or off, so immersed was I in the story. Time seemed to alter – speed up, slow down, or just cease to function in my understood sense of it.
And this, from my perspective, was the central philosophy of the book. The end, not of Mr Y, but of “I” – the merging of myself into another, the crossing over from Ariel to the other people whose stories we access (again, so seamlessly achieved that it was almost imperceptible) and the loss of oneself, as a reader, into the protagonist’s very being. The theory that everything is a story, a construct, matter is made of thought (or is it?), is crucial to the novel, and without those questions relating to “self” and the blurring of “self” with “other”, the novel becomes much less powerful or accessible.
Or something like that. Again, I feel I’m grasping at ideas that are floating somewhere on the periphery of my understanding… But I do enjoy the challenge of the thing!
If self-aware literature is your bag (think Saussure, Derrida, Baudrillard, etc. as explored and exploited in Umberto Eco’s best) you’ll love this novel from the start. If not, I recommend you stick at it – wade far enough through the academia and you’ll get to the good stuff!