Tag Archives | surrealism

The Erstwhile | B. Catling

The cover of Catling's The ErstwhileThe Ersthile are the abandoned. Having failed their responsibility to protect of the primeval tree, they were abandoned by their creator to seek meager shelter as they faded away under fallen leaves and soil. That is, until they begin to awake.

With this theme in mind, Catling returned to the surreal world he created in The Vohr, picking up right where he left off. Like the first novel, Catling develops his fiction with a dash of history. In lieu of Muybridge, we are introduced to William Blake. Unlike the first novel, this story is tighter—the plot threads are more tightly intertwined.

The final scene sets up the third novel, The Cloven, to be released next year. I can hardly wait.

Catling, B. The Erstwhile. New York: Vintage Books, 2017.

The Vorrh | B. Catling

The cover of Catling's The VorrhIn the heart of Africa lies the Vorrh, a primal forest from which the world was created. The Vorrh is not a place to be wandered into lightly—it changes people, erasing memories.

The Vorrh appealed to me because the premise echoed Vandermeer’s gripping Southern Reach Trilogy. Furthermore, Vandermeer’s blurb on the back cover said The Vorrh “is unlike anything I’ve read.” I had to find out for myself.

B. Catling, a poet, sculptor, painter, and performance artist turned novelist, has created a compelling surrealist fantasy. It’s a world where an orphan cyclops raised by robots lives alongside historical figures like experimental photographer Eadweard Muybridge and French author Raymond Roussel. At times it reminded me of some of Michael Ende’s Mirror Within the Mirror stories.

Speaking of Muybridge leads me to my only criticism of the book. Some of the plot threads refuse to coalesce. I finished the book thinking that Muybridge’s narrative could have been a separate novel without effecting the primary narrative of The Vorrh. I have read that in his sequel, The Erstwhile, Catling has tightened his storytelling. I can hardly wait dive back into Catling’s vision.

Catling, B. The Vorrh. New York: Vintage Books, 2015.

The Man Who Was Thursday | G. K. Chesterton

You’ve got to be curious about any book described as a “surreal anarchist fantasy” (Wordsworth edition introduction). I was pleased to find the classic wit of Chesterton on every page.

This book’s paradoxical. Chesterton’s writing is expansive and leisurely, yet the pace of the mystery is breathtaking at times. It’s difficult to find a writer who can make paragraph length blocks of dialogue come alive so effortlessly.

The plot itself is very curious. The story’s about a group of seven anarchists (named after the days of the week), who have been infiltrated by a spy from Scotland Yard. I hesitate to share any more lest I give too much of the plot away. By the last couple chapters, I found myself questioning how Chesterton could possibly bring such a tale a fitting conclusion without being predictable. He exceeded my expectations. I’ll return to that last chapter more than once to let it sink in.

Chesterton’s at his best: relaxing and thrilling, silly and profound. The entire narrative is laced with Christian symbolism that comes to a poignant theological head without sounding preachy. This is a great summer read.

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