I’m tired and miserable and I should go to bed but I will feel like I wasted another day of my life if I don’t write something down. So I’m going to write about Michael Cisco’s The Narrator.
Have you ever read something so utterly incredible that it fundamentally changes your perception of what is possible with words and art? Something so phenomenal that nothing will ever be the same again now that you’ve experienced it? Maybe that sounds stupid and pretentious but I don’t care. It’s true. Nothing will ever be the same now that I’ve read this book. I haven’t been this blown away by a book since the first time I read Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast novels. And you have noooooo idea how strongly I feel about Gormenghast (that’s a blog for another day).
The Narrator is a fever dream. It’s a surrealist nightmare of war and despair. You don’t read this book, you hallucinate it. It throws so much grotesque imagery at you that you can’t actually comprehend it all. You just stare at the words, lost in a fog, until suddenly one little description within the page lunges out at you and wraps itself around your mind. And before you even understand what you just read it’s gone, and you’re in the fog again, waiting for the next image to grab hold of you. I know when I read it a second time I will be reading an entirely different book because different images will emerge for me.
This is a story of the futility of war. It is the story of death villages, cannibal queens, flying armies, storms of glass shards, magical alphabets, transparent mice, sickening towers. It’s… it’s fucked up, is what it is. I still don’t even understand half of what I read. Cisco doesn’t explain things, he just lays it all out, lets the words meander across the page and ooze under your skin like a bruise.
When I finished The Narrator, I put my head into my hands and screamed. I didn’t know what I’d just experienced, but my heart ached for characters I already missed, for a world that horrified yet mesmerized me. I felt shaken, traumatised. I was in love with this book. Everything had changed.
I used to feel like my stories were too weird to be accepted, like I could never be a real “Australian Author” unless I was writing about boring middle class white people having boring middle class white people problems with some fucking gum trees in the background. But now I’ve found Michael Cisco, Jeff Vandermeer, Caitlin R Kiernan, KJ Bishop, Thomas Ligotti. I’m not alone. There’s a whole movement for this sort of thing. I want to be a part of it. I feel like I’ve found my people.
This book is so important to me now that it sits on the shelf above my desk, next to my Mervyn Peake collection.
If a book like this can exist, then there are no limits to what we can do with words. It’s time to reach for the stars and turn them inside out.