Suspend Your Disbelief: Strange Bodies

I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s instantly attracted to pretty much anything bearing the name Theroux…

Whether it’s a book like The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux, a documentary by his son Louis, or a novel by author Marcel Theruox, the name is synonymous with quality, compelling storytelling, and more than it’s fair share of quirk.

strange bodiesMarcel’s most recent novel, Strange Bodies (Faber) is the first of his novels that I’ve read and I couldn’t put it down. I wasn’t quite sure where it was taking me, how it was going to pan out, but hey, that’s half the fun of reading isn’t it?

It’s an unusual premise, presented as matter of fact…

Nicholas Slopen has been dead for months. So when a man claiming to be Nicholas turns up to visit an old girlfriend, deception seems the only possible motive.

Yet nothing can make him change his story.

From the secure unit of a notorious psychiatric hospital, he begins to tell his tale: an account of attempted forgery that draws the reader towards an extraordinary truth – a metaphysical conspiracy that lies on the other side of madness and death.

As with most good magic realism, the bizarre is unapologetically posited as as mundane, the reader’s ability to suspend their disbelief is assumed. I find this type of reading really liberating – the requirement for me to relinquish control and go with the flow of the narrative, accepting these facts exactly as they are presented – is a wonderful type of escapism.

The main protagonist, Nicholas is a complex character. He is earnest, honest and hardworking and yet he is somewhat unlikeable in his awkward single-mindedness. Regardless, as I’m sure was intended by the author, I couldn’t help but feel his frustration and despair acutely, as he tries to reconnect with those he loves, both before and after ‘the procedure’…

“In all the startling discomfort of coming to my senses in a new carcass, I don’t recall a more agonising moment than this. All the shame and the pain and the pitying eyes of strangers. My awareness of myself as weak and hopeless. What made it harder was my perception that while I was broken and tearful, Leonora was speaking with a voice of reasoning tenderness. I was the one clinging to a fantasy about our marriage as insane as Roger N’s delusion that Mossad has implanted a radio transmitter in his brain.”

His physical and emotional pain throughout the novel is raw and quite terrifying, yet the book itself remains quite humorous. The comedy is black, obscure and entertaining.

Interestingly too, I learnt a great deal reading this novel. Marcel is obviously incredibly expert in the field of literature and history. His knowledge of the eighteenth century lexicographer Dr Samuel Johnson is beyond thorough, and his appreciation for random trivia relating to writers, texts and vintage health conditions is impressive. He had me googling names and references throughout the whole novel and I was fascinated as, page by page, I picked up random facts that I’ll probably never use again, but enjoyed completely.

Strange Bodies is a fascinating book, especially suited to those who love magic realism or who love shameless literary name-dropping (which, as it happens, I do). I’d say, take a look at this literary, science fiction, black comedy, high brow, fantastical novel – you won’t be disappointed.

You can find out more about Marcel Theroux’s novel at the Allen and Unwin website here.