Science fiction and fantasy
by Leon Jenner
"We whisper to you through a powerful invention of ours, emotions," he says on page 16. And then a few lines further on, "The plant is much smarter than you." Such outrageous statements are typical of the builder, who rejects science and talks as though he is imparting sacred knowledge to the hopelessly ignorant. His words are full of nostalgia for a time that never was, a past utopia when people lived in a state of nature, in perfect harmony and wisdom.
It's soon apparent that we can't trust the narrator. The real story of his life slips in through the cracks, when he lets his guard down and reveals details that allow readers to piece together what's going on in his head. But the story trickles in excruciatingly slowly whilst the monologue goes on and on. I kept expecting the pace to change abruptly, in the hope that this was no more than an extended prologue. By chapter 5 the text is a lot like a religious tract, with a discussion of sin and plenty of inspirational guff. But for all his talk of wisdom the builder isn't wise enough to know when he's being tedious, and as a result he isn't a gripping character. This may be a fictional account, and there may be a subtle subtext at work, but it's no more readable than genuine half-baked New Age sermonising. Bricks is a victim of its own authenticity.
The first whiff of a proper story emerges in chapter 6, when the builder presents his version of the Roman invasion. There's a hint of tension in this initially dry account as the ancient Celts prepare to take on the invaders and we wonder who will survive. However no matter what happens the builder uses the events to justify his strange ideas. In his twisted version of history the Celts are awesome, influential and superior. The real question is whether the narrator is completely delusional. He pontificates about prayer, meditation, sex and death and utters prophecies of fire, all the while becoming more manic and leaking signs of emotional instability.
As a psychological portrait Bricks is perceptive. Unfortunately it takes a long time to get to its point, and makes readers wade through a lot of long-winded rants and iffy poetry to get there, without the benefit of a tight, exciting plot to keep it interesting. It's definitely an experimental novel, but for me the experiment was unsuccessful.
13th August 2011
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