And following on from yesterday’s blog entry, here’s the second part of the D. F. Lewis feature that originally appeared in Black Static #25:-
THE CHAOS THEORY OF EVERYTHING: D. F. LEWIS (part 2)
At three times the length, the novel NEMONYMOUS NIGHT (Chomu Press paperback, 392pp, £13) is a richer, denser work, one in which the author unpacks his entire arsenal of literary tricks and conceptual sleight of hand. The effect is rather as if Vladimir and Estragon had wandered on to a stage set designed by William Burroughs and settled down to discuss Sartrean existentialism, with the whole then run backwards through the translator James Joyce didn’t have when he worked on Finnegan’s Wake.
The novel is a triptych of sorts, with the first section titled ‘Nemonymous Navigation’. In it we are introduced to a diverse assortment of characters, including Susan and Sudra/Sundra, Amy and Arthur, Ogdon and Crazy Lope, and perhaps most significantly Mike, who is defined as a Hawler, though we do not get a definition of this profession until later in the book. These various characters interact in various ways – there’s a trip to the zoo, a search for missing children, visits to the pub and reflections in a mirror, a whole gamut of alarums and excursions. And there is also the beginning of a voyage to the Core, in a Vernean burrowing machine. We are told ‘At the centre of the earth there exists the strongest power in the universe.’
The second section is titled ‘Nemonymous Night’ and much of it reprises scenes from the first section, but given a different slant or point of view. For example in the first section we are told ‘Mike had usually steered clear of married women especially if they had children, but life was never simple.’ In the second section this becomes ‘I have usually steered clear of married women, but life’s never simple.’ The assumption to be made is that this is the same scene written in the first person, but it is only an assumption. We don’t actually know if the character and situation are identical, or merely similar. There are similar occurrences throughout this second section. The fragility of our narrative notions is at the heart of Nemonymous Night, the idea of various strands entwining and overlapping, and any pattern that exists is simply an imposition of our own, individual consciousnesses. And at one point the assertion is made that this novel is a rival to a similar novel written by the character Ogdon (presumably, but not necessarily, the first section of the book). As well as replaying previous events this second section carries its own unique freight, and in particular it pushes forward the journey to the centre of the earth, or the Core as Lewis refers to it, with attendant signs and wonders.
In the third and final section, ‘Apocryphal Coda’, events become even more confused and confusing. Set in Klaxon City which, as far as I can tell, is variously the name of an amusement arcade in Soho, or a city at the centre of the earth, or some other-dimensional Clacton, or none of the above, it tells of various conflicts whose precise nature remain elusive. There are also points where it intersects other works by Lewis. Mention of the Canterbury Oak and Rachel Mildeyes’ reference to Weirdtongue. There’s the Angel Megazanthus (Lewis runs Megazanthus Press) and there’s Agra Aska, while flitting in and out of the narrative is the tutelary spirit of Lewis’ oeuvre, the trickster god known as the Weirdmonger, who so often seems to stand in loco parentis for the author himself. And there are other literary traits that Lewis has made his own – characters discussing and debating the book itself, interpolated notes on the text – all of which highlight its metafictional status.
There is, as one would expect of Lewis, evidence of a keen mind at work, and one that delights in finding oblique angles and perspectives from which to view this thing called life/literature, seen in such throwaway ideas as immortality achieved through celebrity and humanity ‘strobing’ in and out of existence. Evidence also of his distinctive prose style, with phrases that delight for their elegance and perverse intimations of beauty, with inventive wordplay and striking imagery. And, by virtue of the references to Big Brother, avian flu and other matters, there’s a strong hint of contemporary relevance, or some attempt at such.
But what’s the meaning of it all? Does Nemonymous Night add up to anything more than the sum of its parts? Will it be of value to those of us who don’t obsessively labour over the cryptic crossword in our daily paper each morning?
One of the things discussed in the third section is the idea of empathy for characters in fiction, with the notion that an author can make his characters even more empathic by putting the burden of joining the dots, filling in the colours etc., on the reader. In a similar way I think the seemingly random nature of this novel’s plot (though not its structure, which doesn’t seem random at all) puts the onus on the reader to interpret the action, though of course any such reading is bound to be highly subjective. I’ve described the book as metafiction, but at the same time the converse is true: it reminds us of the fictional nature of reality itself, that what we think of as existence is simply an entanglement of competing narratives, each of us telling our own story and interpreting reality to fit concretised notions. Lewis himself refers to imagination as the first act of creation and alludes to the idea of the world as a book when he ponders ‘without humanity to stain its pages, who knows what will then become imaginable or even real?’
But of course I’m making it all up as I go along. I don’t have any real idea what this book is about, much as I enjoyed it, any more than you will from reading this review. The only real difference between me and most of you is that I’ve read Nemonymous Night and you haven’t, but that’s every bit as much of a handicap as it is an advantage when it comes to understanding this book. I feel somewhat like a reviewer for Vogue asked to comment on the Emperor’s New Clothes and not wanting to make a fool of himself by decrying a visionary fashion statement, but at the same time very conscious of the fact that there may be a little boy waiting in the wings to expose all our affectations and pretensions. The only thing I can say with any certainty is that I liked the book very much and, whatever his apparel or lack thereof, the Emperor is looking especially buff today.
TO BE CONTINUED
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