I am in favour of writers taking risks and trying experiments with their writing. One of the best is Stephen Hall’s ‘The Raw Shark Texts’ in which he plays with words and concepts as well as presentation. It is a delightful book. It is also good that there are publishers that are willing to take the risk and publish experimental work. Douglas Thompson’s ‘The Rhymer’ is an experimental work.
There is a folk tale of a Thomas Learmont in the thirteenth century who was taken away by the Queen of the Fairies. Though he stayed in her realm for seven years, no time has passed in the real world. When he returns, he is given the gift of prophecy but can only deliver his predictions in rhyme. This is the story that forms the basis of this novel and many of the elements that are featured in ballads written about Thomas’ adventures are woven into this text. The cover and the incidental images at the start of each section make it clear that the narrator’s journey is a mental one with the trappings of reality.
The novel opens with the narrator, having travelled on foot for some time, finding a deer on the road that has been recently killed by a car. He carries it into the centre of the next town along the road and lays it at the foot of a war memorial. In a nearby pub, he meets Weasel, the first of characters that recur in various sections. Weasel calls the narrator Nadith and says he has a brother, Zenir, a successful artist who passed through the town a few weeks ago. Thus begins the narrator’s journey as he attempts to catch up with his brother, only to find him moving ahead of him each time he thinks they are about to meet. In each place, their names, appearances and histories are slightly different. Nadith claims to wear a different face in each place he passes through. Only slowly are the clues given as to the true nature of the whole situation, some of which relates to the device he has taped to his chest.
The novel itself has a surreal quality to it and will not be to everyone’s taste. My issues are more with the style rather than the concept woven within the text. Dialogue is produced only as italics and without the accepted punctuation. The result is long paragraphs and pages exhibiting the denseness of a text book. It is an uninviting format. In keeping with the theme of Thomas the Rhymer, there are a lot of rhymes within the text. This is not poetry, far from it, but at times the technique becomes overwhelming and annoying. I would have preferred it if the style had been kept for the narrators speech and that of other characters to have been contrastingly normal. The plethora of, often nonsensical, rhymes gets in the way of the story and inhibits character development.
The structure of the novel itself is problematical. While some of the effects and the understanding the reader ultimately has of the shape and reason for the pattern Thompson’s story, there are opportunities missed. The illustrations indicate a journey through the various cognitive and reflexive parts of the brain, something that would be difficult to put in the narrative as Nadith is unaware of the structure. He visits regions known as Suburbia, Industria, Oceania, Sylvia and Urbis in turn though the diagrams don’t have the regions next to each other as he passes across the borders. The parts of the brain have different functions and although there are differences in the landscapes, it would have been nice to have these correlating with those of the brain. If the author intended there to be a relationship, it is not obvious to the reader.
While there will be readers who appreciate this book more than I do, I still applaud Thompson for trying something new and the publisher for taking a chance with it.
(pub: Elsewhen Press, Dartford, Kent UK, 2014. 196 page enlarged paperback. Price: £ 9.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-908168-41-2)
check out website: http://elsewhen.alnpetepress.co.uk