Thursday, 15 December 2016

Original gothic with more than a touch of the golem

Despite its modern setting, Strange Bodies reminded me very much of some of the original gothic horror stories.

One reason was the “framing” method of storytelling. The novel begins with the description by an antique shop owner of her meeting with an old friend from many years ago, Nicholas Slopen. He is definitely Nicholas, she can be sure by his turn of phrase, his mannerisms and importantly, the intimate knowledge of shared experiences. Yet, curiously, he looks nothing like Nicholas. In fact, she believed Nicholas had been killed in a car accident a few years before. And then, this new Nicholas dies.

Later, she finds a thumb drive that contains his memoir. And compelling reading it makes, from his study as a scholar of Dr Samuel Johnson to his marital breakdown, his involvement with some shady Russians, and into the horrific but strangely compelling world of golem, “mankurts” and resurrection.

Devotees of metaphysical mysteries will enjoy Strange Bodies, especially if you have an inclination to contemplate the meaning of existence and the nature of “self”. It is equally enjoyable for lovers of the English language – as not only do we intimately delve into Johnson’s world but grapple with the conceit that “being” is based upon language. There is even a touch of the new East-West realpolitik, and a terrifying excursion into drug-imprisoning psychiatric hospitals.

In all, it is a rich book with enough going on to keep a wide variety of readers turning the pages right to the end. (Faber)

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