Friday, 18 September 2009

"Stranger Than Fiction" by Jim Murdoch

This is the first time that I have reviewed the same author twice, apart only from Philip K. Dick, and both he and Jim Murdoch are very fine writers indeed.

Regular visitors to this blog will remember that I gave his Living with the Truth (reviewed December 2008) rave notices as it was quite the most stylish, thoughtful and dowright original novel I had read for a long time. I remember wondering at the time how Murdich was going to follow it though, not least because there was talk of a sequel yet the hero (using the word only in its literary sense - there is nothing heroic about Jonathan Payne) actually died at the end of it.

Constructing a whole new novel around a character who died in a previous one may seem a tall order, yet Murdoch pulls it off brilliantly. The universe, it appears, has ground to a halt, and not for the first time either. God is seriously hacked off by this, and Truth and his colleagues are under strict orders to track back through an infinite number of chains of events try try to find out what went wrong, so that the same mistake can be avoided in future. I will not spoil the plot by describing things any further.

This highly imaginative device allows Murdoch to work all manners of conjuring tricks, even appearing himself at one point, and with a respectful nod to Puckoon to boot. He even contrives yet another twist at the end, which leaves the way open for a third novel in the sequence, which I very much hope he will write.

Like its predecessor (no pun intended), the book is shot through with wry humour and off-hand allusions to all manner of people from Kafka to Einstein. I particularly liked this, which is followed, believe it or not, by a reference to Frankie Howard:

Everyone is unprepared for the future. It is undiscovered, but do we discover it or does it find us, yelling "No, not yet! It's not time. I'm not ready. Come back tomorrow."? Everyone knows, though, that tomorrow never comes, and that's where they keep all the jam.

Another wonderful moment was the discovery that Truth's counterpart, Reality, knocks back a regular cocktail of mind-altering drugs. Truth goes on to explain that there is actually no such thing as absolute reality, but only the concoction of perceptions and expectations with which we surround ourselves. In effect, we each create our own "reality". Just like writing a novel, really.

It is difficult to describe Murdoch's prose and do it full justice. You really have to experience it for yourself, and I sincerely hope you will. Go out and buy Stranger Than Fiction. You won't be disappointed. There is a link here to a special offer.

Stranger Than Fiction is published by Fandango Virtual under ISBN 978-0-9550636-2-6

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