‘To summarise, or categorise The Age of Wire and String is pretty close to impossible’ – The Age of Wire and String by Ben Marcus

taowasbmTo call The Age of Wire and String a unique work of literature would be a massive understatement. Never before has one book resembled the stark and brutal prose of McCarthy or Faulkner on one page, and the anarchic and bizarre ramblings of Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer on the next. To summarise, or categorise The Age of Wire and String is pretty close to impossible. The author, Ben Marcus, never does anything that comes even close to explaining what this text actually represents, what world it occupies, and who the people who populate The Age of Wire and String really are.

It seems to be a kind of bible for a society that has been hidden away from the world, or a survival guide for those left over after a crippling apocalypse. It’s an outline of the rules that govern a whole culture, the traditions they live by, and the superstitions that have shaped their worldview. But the reader never quite knows who, or where, these people are.

Whoever, or wherever, they may be, this population is governed by a language that has taken a strange and disconcerting transformation. Words we use in the here and now no longer have the same meanings, and as we try to make connections throughout the interlinked fables in this fiction, we have to adapt to allow this new language to exist alongside our own. It takes quite an effort, and a real sense of immersion, but by the end of the narrative, readers may find themselves so engrossed that they actual start to question the language they’ve known for so long. Simple names and phrases take on completely new meanings, such as Carl, which in The Age of Wire and String, is a ‘name applied to food built from textiles, sticks, and rags,’ or Mother, which is ‘the softest location in the house. It smells of foods that are fine and sweet. Often it moves through rooms on its own, cooing the name of the person. When it is tired, it sits, and members vie for position in its arms.’ There is a proliferation of such linguistic switches throughout this work which work to build an increasingly disturbing, darkly amusing, and prophetic picture of this strange new world.

This latest edition of a work first published in 1995 is added to with illustrations by Catrin Morgan. Previous readers of Marcus’s innovative fiction might have hoped for drawings which would shed some light on the world they’d inhabited in these 190 pages. But, no. As beautiful, intricate, and involving as the illustrations are, they only work to further warp the reader’s mind.

Any Cop? It’s rare that a piece of art of any kind can be so absorbing and interesting while at the same time being completely bewildering. I can’t tell you what I just read, but I can say that I was engrossed from page one to the very end. Oscillating between violence of the highest order and something approaching a type of nonsense poem, The Age of Wire and String works on so many levels that a new piece of this world will probably become apparent with every reread, even if you read it over a hundred times.

Fran Slater


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