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This book has been described as experimental. I agree with that, but I could add a whole host of extra descriptors to go along with experimental.
Suddain has created a fantastical work of sci-fi, horror, black humour (and I mean REALLY black humour). I was caught up in the weirdness from the first few pages, and although I am not and have never been a sci-fi aficionado, I was enjoying myself; although struggling a bit with the complexity of the plot lines, and the other-worldliness of the whole story, I persevered. But there’s more….
There are many levels in this huge novel– there’s the narrator, Jonathan, who is a self-styled “forensic gastronomist” whose life’s work and passion is food and drink. He travels through the many cosmic worlds which make up the particular planetary system he inhabits, in search of the perfect meal. Because his work is apparently fraught with danger (he is a critic!) he has a minder (Beast) and a bodyguard (Gladys). Gladys is a wonderful character. She is apparently part Water Bear, and sleeps like a duck – never entirely asleep, which in this book is a useful trait.
There are rafts of more-than passing-strange characters, most of whom are integral to the story. There’s a writer/psychoanalyst/crossdresser/villain who gets into Jonathan’s head in very manipulative and clever ways and is to my mind quite evil. There are giants, nymphs, chefs, thugs, all with their own peculiarities. The characters in general are brilliantly drawn and in a very weird way entirely, unexpectedly, credible.
There’s the temporal aspect – where and when, and in which worlds, are we? Is any of this real? Could it ever be real? All questions which I cannot attempt to answer until I find someone who actually grasped all of the plot and storylines!
So back to the “wait, there’s more…” Following a series of unfortunate incidents, Jonathan and crew journey to find the perfect meal, for which Jonathan has booked. This is where the horror kicks in. The location is yet another world, where people are seemingly killed for alarmingly minor reasons.
But are they in fact killed? Are they real? How much of what we see is merely hologram? Does Jonathan ever get that meal?
No spoilers in this review, you have to see for yourself.
What is real, for the less bloodthirsty readers like me, is the horror and absolute gruesomeness of the killings. At least at first…but as it goes on, and the bloodbaths continue, the warped humour of it all comes through.
I kept picking this book up, and then, particularly before bed, putting it down rapidly! Finally I just powered through the last quarter of the book, determined to see what happened. It’s probably a flaw in my reading that I am still uncertain if any of Jonathan’s story is in fact true .
Recommended to readers with strong stomachs!
Reviewed by Sue Esterman
Hunters and Collectors
by M. Suddain
Published by The Bodley Head Ltd