Saturday, June 1, 2013

What that little quotation at the start of a novel can do: The Silver Hearted by David McConnell.

I thoroughly enjoyed David McConnell's new novel, The Silver Hearted, though I was a little confused about what was going on most of the time.

Here's what I think the story is about....

The narrator has been hired by a set of mysterious criminals to make sure a shipment of silver is safely transported through an un-named, third world nation, maybe on in Asia, maybe one in Africa, during an up-rising that turns into a full-scale revolution by the novel's end.  The narrator hires a teen-age boy, Topher, to help carry and guard the boxes of silver only to fall in love with the boy.  

The story feels a lot like a William Burroughs novel to me, one of the more easily understood ones where really weird things happen to a narrator who acts like everything makes sense.  The Silver Hearted has this strange, surreal fell to it--the plot's events often don't quite feel believable in a strictly linear sense of reality.  But we are in Heart of Darkness territory in The Silver Hearted.  Remember how unreal so much of Conrad feels, or how fantastic Francis Coppola's Apocalypse Now was while still remaining realistic?   Throw in a bit of a criminal element with a slightly gay twist, something out of Jean Genet, and you have The Silver Hearted.

But....

There's this little quote at the start of the book.  The epigraph.

I can offer provisional proof of this in the simple fact that the sun has addressed me for years in human speech...
Daniel Paul Schreber

I'm going to lay even money that I am the only person you know who has read Daniel Paul Schreber.  Unless you happen to be a mental health professional of some sort.  In 1903, Daniel Paul Schreber wrote a book called Memoirs of My Nervous Illness in which he describes his own psychosis.  The book went on to inspire the research of Sigmund Freud among many others.  The thing about Mr Schreber's book is that he doesn't describe a psychosis; he describes the world he is living in as though it is the real world because as far as he was concerned it was the real world.  It was also a world full of impossible things like conversations with the sun, strange rays of power sent down from heaven by God, and groups of very small men who performed tortures on Mr. Schreber.  But at no point in his 'memoirs' does he suggest that any of these things are anthing but true to life experiences he himself survived.  

Reading this epigraph before reading  The Silver Hearted brought the entire book into question as far as I am concerned.  Is the narrator telling us was is really happening or is he living in a psychosis the way Daniel Paul Schreber was?  The way so many characters in William Burrughs novels are?  The events of The Silver Hearted are much easier to believe that the events of Schreber's "memoirs," but we've still just got the narrator's word for it in both cases.  I kept expecting Mr. McConnell to pull a big reveal, to draw back the curtain somehow on his narrator's mental state, but he never did.  

There's just this little epigraph at the start of the novel to suggest that what follows is not really happening the way the narrator says it is.  

1 comment:

bkclubcare said...

Maybe I need to read Heart of Darkness and some Wm Burroughs first? But this looks interesting. You write terrific reviews.