Monday, September 28, 2009

Storytelling at its finest

Sometimes, it takes just one contemporary novel to make me realize again why I'm not a novelist, or a short story writer for that matter). My attempts at fiction are crap. Wait, let me rephrase that since I'm being way too kind on myself. If crap actually crapped something out, then that would be my writing. I know that I won't be able to write a novel as brilliant as William Heaney's novel, Memoirs of a Master Forger, which has become my favorite book this year.

William Heaney is actually the pseudonym of Graham Joyce, the acclaimed fantasy writer. In the novel, we meet the William Heaney, probably the most lovable flawed character in recent fiction. Heaney, together with his two closest friends, produce fake first edition Austen novels, sells them for staggeringly absurd amounts, and then donates his proceeds to charity. He also works for the government, being chair of an organization for youth affairs in the UK. But Heaney has his dark side -- he's a closet alcoholic, he can't let go of his past love, and he can see demons.

Joyce's demons are not your typical supernatural elements. They're spectral characters able to influence the people they hang around with by the power of their suggestions. But even though they don't figure much among the other characters in the novel, Joyce's description of the demons Heaney sees is just glorious.

There are thousands of them, and in multiple forms, living at our shoulders. Hosts of them, malign and benign, swarming or singleton, some fascinated by us, others disinterested. All utterly unseen except by the initiated. [p. 182]

I'd learned enough about demons by now to know they don't understand everything that is said; that their ability to understand is linked with their capacity to find a ride inside one of us; that once they get inside, then they can enjoy a psychic feed; that once they have fed, they leave a deposit behind them... [p. 263]

The real demons that Joyce focuses on, however, have to do with Heaney's inability to establish a healthy relationship with women. And this is where the novel can be treated as an unconventional love story. The narrative often goes back to the 1980s, a time when Heaney was in college and was in a loving relationship. This back story, which can stand as a novel on its own, provides an effective thread on Heaney's present insecurities and paranoia.

Joyce won the British Fantasy Award for Memoirs of a Master Forger. I believe that the award was well-deserved. The novel is uplifting. It celebrates living and loving in all its aspects. The way I see it, we can either choose to wallow among the demons around us or confront them and realize that these demons -- whether literal or metaphorical -- do not stand in the way of loving.

Read this book if:
  1. It's been a long time since a novel made you cry, laugh, and love.
  2. You actually feel "beings" around you every now and then.
  3. You're craving for a beautifully written fantasy novel.

19 comments:

Lula O said...

If crap actually crapped something out, then that would be my fiction output. This is what I felt after reading William Heaney's Memoirs of a Master Forger.
I thought that meant you didn't like the book! (Seriously, I think that word is underutilized.) I was happy to be wrong. Great review!

Peter S. said...

Hi Lula O! LOL. I guess I'll edit that part out. Too open to misinterpretation.

Vivienne said...

I haven't heard of this one at all, but it sounds really interesting. I was surprised to read it was set in the 80's as I was expecting it to be 18th century, going by the title and the cover.

Logan said...

Read if #2: "You actually feel beings around you every now and then." I can relate...

lilly said...

First of, I feel exactly the same way about myself being ever a writer.
Second of, how did I never hear of this book?! I have to get out and get it even though I promised myself no more book buying this year.

mental wayfarer said...

I fulfill all the 3 conditions you mentioned, so this is now officially on my wish list. You come across the most wonderful books! That's talent.:)

Charlie said...

Your quote from the book about demons is chilling. The book sounds like it's well worth reading.

Charlie said...

I just checked on the book at Amazon—which doesn't have it. There is one new copy from a second-party seller for $75, and there is one customer review.

Happy hunting, fellow readers.

Peter said...

@Viviene: I think the cover was inspired by the fact that they were forging 1st edition Austens.

@Logan: I can hardly relate to that at all!

@Lilly: I promised that to myself as well. I guess my demon just keep whispering to my ear to buy books.

@mental wayfarer: Oh, you flatter.

@Charlie: Amazon running out of stock! That's something you don't hear every day.

Melissa (My World) said...

Well, I am sure you are extremely hard on yourself on the writing issue. But, I understand the ideas. I love to write my ideas down and think they would make great books, but my problem is making them happen on paper.

This review sounds great. It isn't to often I read a review that is so positive for a book. I will have to look a little closer at this one on my next trip to the store.

Peter said...

Hello, Melissa! Thanks for dropping by again. I only have praises for this book. I think that, if I can get enough copies, I'll probably be giving them out as gifts this Christmas.

Ryan G said...

Thank you so much for this review. I was not familiar with this book but I will take your word and get this book next trip to the store.

Peter said...

Hello, Ryan! I'm actually on the hunt for other novels written by Graham Joyce. I heard that The Tooth Fairy is a superb horror story.

Cynewyn said...

I just checked, and you can order this one through Amazon France - amazon.fr - they do loads of English books, and this one's definitely in stock there. They post worldwide.

Peter S. said...

Hi Cynewyn! Thanks for the tip! I'm wondering why Amazon in the US ran out of copies of this book. As far as I know, it wasn't even in the bestseller lists.

josbookshelf said...

Hi, Peter! Very nice review. Just wish I could get my hands on this. Is this locally available?

Peter said...

Hello, Jo! Check out your nearest National Book Store. If you want, I can send you my copy.

josbookshelf said...

Oh Peter, that's so generous of you. Thanks so much for the offer, but I'll check the NBS here or have my sister buy it for me in Manila. That book is for your shelf. :)

bookjourney said...

1,2, and #3... I guess this book is a must for me. :)

Yup that rhymes.