When you first glimpse the cover of Heinz Helle’s second novel, you see threads, possibly burned books, piled up one atop the other. It takes a minute (turning the book on its side helps) to realise it’s trees we are looking at. A bare forest. It’s a clever device. Kudos to Peter Dyer for the design. It’s eye catching and arresting and you find yourself returning to look at it throughout (Helle’s short chapters and non-linear storytelling making for a fractious disturbed read that never entirely allows you to disappear in the book).
You’ll remember that we liked Helle’s debut Superabundance a great deal. Here we thought is someone who shows promise. Euphoria doesn’t quite deliver on that promise but it’s a nearly not quite; by no means a disaster (even though the novel itself deals with disaster). What we have here is the story of a group of successful men who, having taken themselves off into the mountains for what we gather is one of their periodic jaunts, emerge one morning to find the nearby village aflame. That’s an entire village aflame, every building united in a single pyre. What has gone on? We never quite find out because the men themselves never quite find out. We travel with them and we are party to burned out cars and burned out nightclubs and devastation on a grand scale. Reviewers have drawn parallels with Cormac McCarthy’s The Road but – no.
Euphoria is a restless novel that never quite settles. We travel with the men up the mountain, we travel with the men down the mountain, we briefly glimpse their lives before the trip, we occupy space with them post-disaster. Most chapters run to three or four pages. At times, the men are not very nice. The narrative style is cool and detached. As with Superabundance, Helle has quite a way with a sentence. And yet, there is a sense that, having got his men together, having set his disaster in motion, Helle doesn’t really know what to do or where to go. Perhaps that is the very point he is making. What do you do in a world where there is nothing left? Walk in circles, effectively. The climax would seem to indicate that one of the things he is doing is possibly encouraging his readers to appreciate what they’ve got but maybe that is more Hallmark than Helle would intend. It’s never less than intriguing and as we’ve said before the writing shows us that Helle has a strong voice. We’re just a mite worried that it’s style over content. Which means, I think, that the jury is out on Euphoria.
Any Cop?: A dark curiousity that basks like a shark in its benumbed delivery. Interesting, certainly, but not quite the sum of its parts. Good cover, though.