To Indigo by Tanith Lee (book review).

May 27, 2015 | By | Reply More

There can be few authors who have published well over ninety books and still be able to come up with fresh ideas. Many who are that prolific often write series that develop a formulised similarity: think of Mills & Boon or Piers Anthony. The problem with Anthony is that he starts a series with something brilliant and the more he pursues the idea, the more diluted it becomes but like formulaic romances, there are a lot of readers who find comfort in them. Writers like Tanith Lee are rare. They bring something fresh to everything they write. Do, however, expect to be taken out of your comfort zone.

ToIndigo

Everyone knows of the concept of stalkers. Unless we have been a victim or a close friend of a victim, it is difficult to understand how terrifying the situation can be. Usually, we think of the victim as someone who is young and attractive or has celebrity status. The stalker we expect to be someone who is a bit of a no-hoper, who wants to be noticed by their idol and for them to recognise their devotion. Stalkers, we think, are obsessives, but are these the only reasons for their behaviour?

The first person narrator of Lee’s ‘To Indigo’ is in his fifties. Roy Phipps has made a steady income in writing pot-boiler crime novels and now lives on his own. His lifestyle (living on his own in his parents’ house) would make him appear to be more a stalker than the stalked though he isn’t a total no-hoper as he has had several relationships in the past. As with many writers, there is the work which brings in money and the project that they would love to write. Roy has an unfinished, untitled manuscript that he works on occasionally and that he knows will never see publication. Not only is it totally different from the run-of-the-mill crime that earns him a living but it is not something he feels he ought to expose to public view.

In it, his main character, Vilmos, is an apprentice magician who will go to any lengths to achieve the kind of power he knows that he deserves. A casual visit to a pub on the way home from a meeting in London with his agent changes things for Roy. Just as many authors look at strangers and see them as characters in their books, Roy notices a young man who looks the way he imagined Vilmos to be. The desultory conversation with Joseph Traskul proves that he is nothing like Roy’s dissolute character. He goes home expecting nothing from the encounter. From then on, strange things start to happen, like the new dustbin in his back garden, the visitor who tells the neighbours he is Roy’s son (he is fairly sure he hasn’t got one). Events start to escalate so that Roy resorts to leaving the area in order to escape the man who seems intent on imposing himself in his life. The situation changes from unsettling to bizarre to scary.

There are several themes explored in this novel, with the principal one being the effect on the mind of having a stalker. Traskul goes to extremes not usually expected in such situations, though this kind of attention to whatever degree can seriously affect the mental stability of the victim. Roy is no exception. There is also the suggestion that even the minds of writers can become unstable, especially when they over identify with their creations. Most writers will, if challenged, say that their characters are not based on any particular person but may be a composite of several. To see your character walk into a room can be unnerving. For Roy, this leads to speculation as to whether Vilmos is invented or that somehow he has channelled a real person. The fact that Vilmos is not pleasant makes the idea worse. At times, Roy doubts that Traskul is real and that he is imagining his persecution, which leads to a further theme, the fine dividing line between sanity and mental illness. The majority of this novel handles the ideas extremely well. The ending is suitably bizarre. Lee still has the ability to create strange characters and clothe them in reality. A good addition to her oeuvre.

Pauline Morgan

May 2015

(pub Immanion Press, Stafford, UK, 2011. 319 page enlarged paperback. Price: £11.99 (UK), $20.99 (US). ISBN: 978-1-907737-21-3)

check out website: www.immanion-press.com

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Category: Books, Fantasy

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