Puppets and laughing clowns go only so far
The Weaver Fish
By Robert Edeson Fremantle Press, 272pp, $27.99
By Ray Glickman Fremantle Press, 380pp, $26.99 THESE debut novels from Perth writers Robert Edeson and Ray Glickman are both concerned with the sharp practices and elisions of what we choose to call reality. Both fictional realities are informed by the author’s employment history. Edeson has worked as a consultant anaesthetist and has published research papers in neuroscience and biophysics; Glickman has worked in social work, psychology and management.
The Perth of Glickman’s Reality is a city of near-blinding reflections tamped in rooms made aggressively comfortable by airconditioning and shaded windows. Taking its inspiration from reality TV’s thousandstrength filtering of the observation nightmare laid out in George Orwell’s Nineteen EightyFour, the novel’s unnamed Big Brother randomly pits six ‘‘contestants’’ against each other in trials of dependence and greed.
Like the morality play it resembles, Reality is less concerned with the characters than their avaricious signifiers. From psychiatrist and Holocaust-survivor Hannah, gynaecologist Robert and loan shark Mario, each parades a different aspect of muffled self-interest. Fitting as close as they do to the reality TV roles of the strategic planner, the self-deluded looker and the lusty simpleton, less should have been made of the randomness of their selection.
That doesn’t stop you from feeling sorry for them, though. Mario in particular is described — by another character — as a ‘‘ wop with the lot’’ and as having the ability to bung on ‘‘urgency in the time-honoured fashion mastered by all Italians to jump queues’’.
Glickman’s prose is sometimes blunt and re- petitive and would have benefited from some judicious reworking. Much of the novel’s propulsion is to be found in the open scheming and direct address of our puppet master. The decision to alternate his voice with that of the close third person employed for his not always predictable marionettes is a canny one. But the mechanism of the plot is apparent too early, so the narrative push falls away precipitously.
In contrast, the inventions in Edeson’s The Weaver Fish are dizzying by virtue of their sheer extravagance. The disappearance of ‘‘logician, linguist and dream theorist’’ Edvard Tossentern while ballooning over the Ferendes (Friendship) Islands pitches the reader into a fantastical mix of biology, mythology and linguistics. From a murmuration of mosquitoes, a fruit that is seeded with gold, to the flesh-eating titular fish possessed of a collective sentience, nothing is quite what it seems.
Tossentern’s presumed death is described as creating ‘‘a void in his name, a hiatal self roughedged by the forces and failure of memory, metonymy, and the weakening spectral vision of those who missed him’’. This rather elegant pile-up is not just indicative of Edeson’s layered, precise, if slightly airless, prose style. Language is a puzzle: Edeson keeps its attachment to meaning elusive, playful yet concrete.
The Weaver Fish is almost as playful with form. What starts as an academic tale of discovery soon morphs into an edgy thriller. Extracts from scientific papers, memoirs and interviews are mixed in with a third-person narrative voice. For much of its length, this is a delightful roller-coaster of a novel but its invention goes only so far. Its protagonists are thinly shaped and captive to their disciplines. Like an inverse laughing clown at Luna Park, they are also made to spit up big red balls of exposition when all you want them to do is talk.
The alchemy of successful characters may be too much of a single-minded pursuit for much realist fiction but, without it, or a surer hand with prose, any number of fantastic ideas flicker briefly, then are gone.
James Tierney is a writer and blogger.