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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.


How's about that then?

The Elephant by Sławomir Mrożek

It’s a wonder that Sławomir Mrożek lived to be 83. Maybe the post-Stalin regimes of Georgy Malenkov, Nikolai Bulganin and Nikita Khrushchev were less likely to pitch a critical satirist into an unmarked grave or have him dragged off to winter in Siberia than was Uncle Joe. Maybe he just wasn’t widely read and therefore not deemed a threat. Or perhaps his support of the Stalinist persecution of religious leaders in Poland and his membership of the Polish United Workers’ Party (until he defected) stood him in historical stead good enough so that he didn’t find himself on the sharp end of a radioactive umbrella. Because frankly, having read The Elephant, published in 1957 but not banned until 1968, it’s hard to see anyone in the Soviet bureaucracy letting this level of criticism go unpunished.
Take the titular story, The Elephant, one of 42 similarly absurd political satires in this slim volume. A provincial zoo, lacking “all the important animals” is awarded an elephant by the Party, muc…

The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

Hi, how’ve you been? I’ve been busy myself, thanks for asking. In fact, I was so busy I began contemplating a terminal hiatus from this, ostensibly purposeless endeavour. However, for reasons, I chose not to take it. So on with the show and back to Helen DeWitt.
If there’s one thing about this dense, frankly mind-bogglingly erudite book to love/find empathy with (apart from my own Canadian edition’s deckle-edged hardbackedness – deckle edges; good or bad? Discuss!), it would have to be the passages narrated by Sibylla, mother to genius progeny Ludo. As a parent to one post-toddler and one pre-toddler, as well as occasional taker-up-of-space in the lives of three other young human beings, there are so very few occasions where a simple conversation can be carried out to its logical terminus without interruption and digression; conversations start, stop, return to the beginning, are interrupted once more, are delayed and postponed, and cycle back again until it’s time to give up, get off …

The Last Werewolf Trilogy by Glen Duncan

A trilogy of werewolf novels, the remaining three books of Duncan’s published oeuvre left for me to read, and I’ve gone and devoured them all in one go. I’ve made similar mistakes before; reading every single book I could find by one author as soon as they’re found. It usually ends up in a colossal mess of plot lines, meaning and symbolism in the gray matter, and an inability to unravel one from the other and explain, convincingly, to anyone why they should be read – especially challenging when one’s former job was to sell books to people on the strength of personal recommendations. Nonetheless, I decided that to read these three contiguously made sense, in so far as I have a strong distaste at being left hanging on for the next instalment, be it television series’, serialised print articles or trilogies. And, *COP OUT KLAXON* to review them in one Mega Review Article was the way forward too. So, here’s the quick and habitual disclaimer / plea for clemency. This way, you’ll have to de…

The One from the Other by Philip Kerr

Philip Kerr is an author I have been reluctant to attempt to review for some time. His Berlin Noir trilogy cost me some hours of sleeplessness and in the end I decided to skip a review and just be happy to have read it and therefore move it from the pile of unread novels, via the edge of my desk where the “to review” pile occasionally falls over on to the typewriter and spills my pen pot across the floor and thus causes significant risks when stumbling blindly about the room at night too drunk to remember where my bed is or having just been jolted awake by the boy shrieking from the next room and running asleep into walls and doors, to the back half of my giant Ikea bookcase where novels that have been read and have caused my self-esteem to shatter on the diamond-hard edges of someone else’s talent currently reside, gathering dust and moisture until hitting the mildew tipping point and becoming physically dangerous in their own right. This awesome crew consists mainly of Will Self, Jo…