Sunday, January 25, 2015

Review: The Wanderer by Timothy J. Jarvis

Since starting this blog and becoming part of the weird fiction community, I've been put in contact with many wonderful people, many of whom love to share their love of fiction. While I often have authors and publishers sending me books to review (I should also note, it's clear which ones actually read the blog based on what they propose to send me) I often review books I come across on my own, or books that ping my radar based on recommendations. The Wanderer by Timothy J. Jarvis falls into the latter category.

Much like the mysterious manuscript that makes up the majority of the book's narrative, The Wanderer was something I stumbled upon. A mention of it on the TLO message boards, an inclusion on a year's best list on a fellow review blog. The cover isn't too busy, and besides title and author it includes a creepy drawing of a Punch & Judy puppet stage. Puppets have long been a macabre fascination of mine, as well as several weird fiction writers and fans that I know, and since I've started reading weird fiction Punch has shown up a couple times and always gives me a chill. There's something inherently dark and twisted about the odd-voiced little demon of a puppet.

Jarvis, whose name struck me as familiar, is someone who knows weird fiction. He truly GETS it. His nonfiction articles published on the Weird Fiction Review website offer further proof of this,

The Wanderer is one of the best books of 2014, hands down. Weird fiction is dominated by short stories and novellas, and it's rare that a novel length piece of work comes along that is as engaging throughout as this book.

The official blurb reads:

After obscure author of strange stories, Simon Peterkin, vanishes in bizarre circumstances, a typescript, of a text entitled, The Wanderer, is found in his flat.

The Wanderer is a weird document. On a dying Earth, in the far-flung future, a man, an immortal, types the tale of his aeon-long life as prey, as a hunted man; he tells of his quitting the Himalayas, his sanctuary for thousands of years, to return to his birthplace, London, to write the memoirs; and writes, also, of the night he learned he was cursed with life without cease, an evening in a pub in that city, early in the twenty-first century, a gathering to tell of eldritch experiences undergone.

Is The Wanderer a fiction, perhaps Peterkin's last novel, or something far stranger? Perhaps more account than story?

The book opens with a Foreword and a Note On The Text to set the stage for the bulk of the book, which is the found typescript. Jarvis tells a sprawling, epic story and deftly weaves together a plot taking place over several millennia. The script is written in the far future, near the Earth's end, and tell's the narrator's story in a non-linear fashion. Parts of his story take place in our modern day, parts during his years of wandering the Earth, and others telling of the moments he is writing the manuscript. 

The narrator's prose is often rambling, and includes some interesting syntax (consciously, as the Notes on the Text mention this) which lends a sort of authenticity to the entire book, allowing the frame narrative and book to work together towards becoming more than just a piece of fiction, but an excellent piece of meta-fiction.

Jarvis explores many ideas over the course of his novel: what happens when man crosses borders into strange places he is not meant to be, what is it like to be hunted and live in fear, how does immortality over the ages affect a person? The novel is filled with scenes of terror, scenes of awe, and a glimpse into an ordinary man's millenia-spanning world.

I say this is my favorite novel of 2014, and it's a statement I stand by. Jarvis has chops, and The Wanderer is an epic sized tale of weirdness and horror that no one should miss. It's terrifying, mind-bending, beautiful and unforgettable.

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