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Infinite Ground by Martin MacInnes

There is something awful about it,
she said, in the old sense.
Infinite Ground followed from The Vorrh by virtue of the pull of the jungle and the mystery of the title. I spotted it on the shelves of Griffin Books whilst ostensibly looking for a book for my 7-year-old son (who incidentally chose The Wild Beyond by Piers Torday, book three of a slightly bleak trilogy set in a future where humans have all but killed off the wildlife) and such was the attraction (my mind was still in the verdurous oppression of the ancient forest) that I even overlooked my much considered, and newly admitted, prejudicial predilection for avoiding Scottish-sounding authors. It also called distantly to Ways To Disappear by Idra Novey, a book I thought I’d forgotten but which persists despite my best intentions.

What the book tells us is that a young man has gone missing, possibly into the jungle of the unnamed South American country, and a retired police detective goes off in pursuit. What it doesn’t tell us, rather pleasingly, is that it could all be in the mind of the detective.

Or could it?

Yes, it could. In fact, there is a handy chapter with a variety of possible scenarios for the rather bizarre wanderings of the narrative, in which it is posited that the disappearance is simply the imagining of a mind crushed by grief and despair at the loss of his wife.

As our hapless and confused detective learns of companies who employ actors to fill empty offices, develops affections for a lab-coated assistant, rents a lock-up to recreate the disappearance of Carlos, interviews family members who themselves are actors, stand-ins for Carlos’ real family, wanders the jungle with a group of tourists, and finds himself marooned in a deserted village deep among the trees, slowly losing sense of his humanity, this crafty little novel takes an epistemological tour of one man’s nervous breakdown. It’s fun, and weird in a good way, and MacInnes clearly enjoys some discomfiting wordsmithery – imagery is thought-provoking and unfamiliar in that way which prompts rumination. It also defies a neat categorisation, something which will always endear a novel to me. A tense, suspenseful detective thriller it might not be, but it is quite possible our detective does solve the mystery of Carlos’ disappearance, although by that point it is hard to trust that anything you read is true.

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