MARTIN JOHN AND THE DE­MON MOTHER

Geist - - Endnotes - —Stephen Os­borne

In Martin John (Bi­b­lioa­sis), Anakana Schofield’s new novel, the reader is beck­oned, saluted, en­ticed and then drawn in­ex­orably into the life of a de­mented young man whose spir­i­tual and mag­i­cal ob­ses­sions are ex­pressed in sex­ual fan­tasy and at­tacks on women; his life is a con­vo­luted trail of es­capes and traps, cul de sacs and dou­bling-backs so ex­pertly nar­rated that we can­not stop read­ing; at times we fail to dis­tin­guish his guilty feel­ing from our own. But the deep­est and dark­est el­e­ments in the life of Martin John are em­bod­ied in the fig­ure of his mother, a Mother whose voice is ev­ery­where in the nar­ra­tion: she is the Ge­nius of the book, both hinge and door. Through her we be­gin to see Martin John in the thrall not only of his mother but more pro­foundly of the Great Mother, the source of life and death: lives of mother and son are en­tan­gled in a dance of ques­tion and an­swer, lies and near lies, de­cep­tions of the self and the other; one thinks of the name­less rag­ing mother of Gren­del, the mon­ster slain by Be­owulf; the Mother of Martin John stands to him as the Sphinx stands to Oedi­pus: a De­mon de­mand­ing an im­pos­si­ble an­swer from a son too; the De­mon throws her­self into the pit; Oedi­pus is fated to kill his fa­ther and marry his mother. It is Martin John’s fate to be sup­plied the an­swers by his mother (who is sup­plied, of course, by the Au­thor) for the ques­tions that she asks again and again; the ques­tions as well by po­lice, nurses, doc­tors: the book opens with a list of an­swers pre­sented as a tiny in­dex on page 1:

1. Martin John has made mis­takes. 2. Check my card. 3. Rain will fall. 4. Harm was done. 5. It put me in the Chair. Martin John is the best novel I have read in years: long af­ter read­ing it I feel that I am still read­ing it, be­ing read by it.

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