Sometimes you are confronted with a word in a book that you have to look up in the dictionary. Occasionally you are faced with a concept or idea that you are a little hazy on and you have to clarify your understanding of it before you can grapple with the narrative fully. I’ll confess: in the case of The Ascent of Isaac Steward I had to look up the whole book.
Not that I wasn’t enjoying being thrown between plains of reality, memory and dream (none of which are necessarily a representation of reality) I just wanted some foothold on where the book was heading. If you got on a train and the driver announced that it will be stopping at “Rochdale, somewhere a bit like earth, that place you dreamt about, a memory of something that has been twisted until it approaches the realms of myth, possibly heaven, and finally the unconscious mind of a perhaps imaginary fictional construct” you will, despite whatever personal thoughts you have about the town, probably disembark at Rochdale (if this does ever happen to you, go to the art gallery, it has some very good exhibitions).
The book is possibly about a man who crashes his car, killing his wife and children. Or about a man who thinks he does. Or about a construct who thinks he is a man who thinks he does. He may, or may not be struggling to deal with his grief. There are some fish in it. And a big tree. There are some really obvious biblical references but whether they signify anything or are just a red herring I genuinely couldn’t say. In a way it is irrelevant. Whether they are an allusion to the Bible, or a game played by the author, the artificiality of their names signifies boldly that they are creations of an author and that author is not striving for verisimilitude, at least not externally. Again the text is too nebulous for the reader to guess at the motives of the author. The prose is accomplished enough for me to conclude that he has achieved what he set out to do and I am just too stupid to understand whatever that is. I remain baffled.
Any Cop?: When they publish the York Notes I’ll let you know. Until then you are on your own. If you are looking for a book that takes Finnegans Wake as a starting point and adds a sprinkling of Lacan and onomatopoeia, your search may be over. If you are going to Magaluf, and you only have room for one book in your holdall, maybe read the first chapter before you go. You know, just to be sure.