Sunday, 27 March 2011

Paperback Perusalings

A Maggot by John Fowles is a stunning mystery novel set in the 17th century concerning the travails of a wayward son and his companions while on a peculiar Exmoor journey. The story is told through a series of Q & A's, real time narratives and newspaper clippings and for the first half of the novel the plot doesn't really develop much as the events are retold by each richly drawn traveller, it's beautifully written though it did take me a while to get used to the period vernacular. Around the halfway mark Fowles teasingly reveals a much greater ambition however and what appeared to be a simple historical mystery becomes an interesting examination of religiosity and our ever changing social mores spun from a superbly crafted reminiscence of an ambiguous, fortean, experience. It surpasses The Magus to become my new favourite Fowles novel I think but I won't say anymore in case I spoil someone else's pleasure as it's baffling central events are best discovered as the author intended. A fine example of literary speculative fiction.

Banvard's Folly is a nicely written collection of brief biographies of some unusual, failed geniuses that have slipped from history's focus. It's a nice selection of fascinating oddbods, fraudsters and barmy thinkers including Symmes and his search for his Hollow Earth entrance, Rene Blondlot's imaginary N-Rays, Ephraim Bull's Concord grape variety and of course John Banvard himself, a painter of truly ginormous canvasses. Paul Collins' sympathetic portraits of these 13 characters gives each tale an added poignancy and it's a lovely read for anyone interested in the forgotten and the foolish. If you do read n enjoy it you should give Mike Jay's Air Loom Gang or Foden's Mimi and Toutou Go Forth a go.

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