Beyond the Horizon by Ryan Ireland is a curious work that has stuck with me long after I finished reading it. I’ve been turning over the events of the novel and its themes in my head for weeks now, and if that isn’t the sign of an interesting, and decent book, then I don’t know what is.
A metaphysical, twisting, revisionist Western, Beyond the Horizon starts off simply: a man lives with a woman who is not his wife, a Stranger arrives and informs the man that he will have to travel to a nearby Fort to register his wife, otherwise the authorities will take her away. The man leaves, the stranger kills the woman and child, and sets off in pursuit of the man.
However, it’s from this point that the narrative takes some sharp leftfield turns which will likely leave many readers scratching their heads. The man’s story goes forward in a fairly linear way, but the stranger’s loops across time, intersecting itself at several points. The book is a Mobius strip of a narrative, one that often comes full circle around, crosses paths with itself and plays with time constantly (at one point, a character meets himself travelling towards the start of the novel, tells him what is about to happen and continues on). It reminded me a lot of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games and the way that Haneke plays with narrative convention, pausing and rewinding the film to affect the character’s fates. Ireland has a good grasp on the narrative, in such a way that even when the events may confuse – the reader never once feels lost. In fact, the twisting narrative is often a joy to behold.
That’s a good thing too, because joy is something that this novel lacks everywhere else. This is a very serious book, in which very serious men do very serious things. Like Clint Eastwood, this is a novel full of men with no names. Not a single page goes by without someone dying (various bodily functions betraying them upon their untimely demise). Animals are murdered frequently and horrifically; even the stars are dead – as one character reminds us several times over. That isn’t to say that this is a bad book, nor that it is badly written. This is, at times, wonderfully poetic, and Ireland has an excellent grasp of language. It’s just that, being so straight faced, so often, can make this a bit of a slog. Violence permeates every page, and it’s strongly hinted at that one character may be the embodiment of violence, seeping throughout history. It’s like a Coen Brother’s film without any of the jokes.
All of this violence and narrative twisting can sound pretentious – a fruitless ‘Look at me!’ exercise in po-faced McCarthy-esque writing – but Beyond the Horizon is clearly trying to say something about history and the way we revise the past based on our own present.