So I decided to take a break from reading Joyce’s Ulysses and read something more fun. Also, I was taking a short beach trip and was afraid I’d look awfully pretentious lying on the beach reading James Joyce. So this book was on my shelf and it seemed like a good choice for a beach read. I have to say that it was the perfect book, a quick read and enjoyable.
The book is kind of a dark fantasy novel, dealing with time loops, Lovecraftian monsters, mystical powers, and psychological trauma. While it sounds pretty morbid, it’s not quite as dark as it sounds. But what makes this book so cool, in my opinion, are the photographs included in the book. Riggs incorporates black-and-white pictures as part of the story, and there are quite a lot of them. It works really well. It is almost like a hybrid between a graphic novel and a “normal” book. It also sometimes feels like one of those old films that project a series of images to tell the story.
There is a lot of great symbolism in this book. So while it is a plot-driven story, there is much that you can think about if you choose. The first symbol worth considering is the island, where most of the story takes place. The island is a symbol for an isolated part of the psyche, a fixed point in the rippling sea of consciousness. And like our subconscious, the island is shrouded in mystery.
It was my grandfather’s island. Looming and bleak, folded in mist, guarded by a million screeching birds, it looked like some ancient fortress constructed by giants. As I gazed up at its sheer cliffs, tops disappearing in a reef of ghostly clouds, the idea that this was a magical place didn’t seem so ridiculous.
The island has a bog, which is a point of transition between two dimensions. This represents a part of the psyche where it is possible to shift between states of consciousness. The bog is neither solid nor fluid, but a combination of the both, like a threshold. It symbolizes the psychic membrane which one must pass through when altering states of consciousness.
And as doors to the next world go, a bog ain’t a bad choice. It’s not quite water and not quite land—it’s an in-between place.
There is one scene where sheep on the island were killed and mutilated. This is symbolic of the sacrificial lamb archetype. In this book, the sheep represent the Jews that were killed by the Nazis in World War II, and they also represent the peculiars, who are being hunted down.
The violence inside was almost cartoonish, like the work of some mad impressionist who painted only in red. The tramped grass was bathed in blood, as were the pen’s weathered posts and the stiff white bodies of the sheep themselves, flung about in attitudes of sheepish agony. One had tried to climb the fence and got its spindly legs caught between the slats. It hung before me at an odd angle, clam-shelled open from throat to crotch, as if it had been unzipped.
The last symbol I want to mention is the homunculus. One of the peculiars is able to create homunculi out of clay. This draws on the golem mythology and the Frankenstein parable, of one who plays god and creates man from the earth. In the book, Enoch, the peculiar who makes the clay beings, takes on the characteristics of the cruel god, torturing and punishing his creations for not doing his will.
The clay soldier I’d returned began wandering again. With his foot, Enoch nudged it back toward the group. They seemed to be going haywire, colliding with one another like excited atoms. “Fight, you nancies!” he commanded, which is when I realized they weren’t simply bumping into one another, but hitting and kicking. The errant clay man wasn’t interested in fighting, however, and when he began to totter away once more, Enoch snatched him up and snapped off his legs.
“That’s what happens to deserters in my army!” he cried, and tossed the crippled figure into the grass, where it writhed grotesquely as the others fell upon it.
As I said, I really liked this book. The only complaint I have about it is that it is the first book in a series, so it has an open ending that anticipates the next book, which is Hollow City. I will certainly read the next book, but I am just getting a little tired of serialized books. It seems to have become the norm in publishing, kind of a way to ensure future book sales. Other than that, great book and I totally recommend reading it. Cheers!!