In recent literary times a lot has been made of the concept of weird in fiction, and various writers old and new have been said to write under this banner or of its stillborn offspring, the New Weird. For a whole host of reasons, I've never much cared for this concept, even though I like and appreciate the work of a number of writers labelled weird. Nicholas Royle is not weird - in the literary sense. He may be the freakiest dude you'll ever meet in reality, I've no idea - and is not generally considered such, as far as I'm aware. So why mention it? Well, because I think in some ways his writing represents another loosely aligned stream of fiction that plays with abstraction and the otherworldy, but which has not received the same degree of attention, that of the uncanny. A style that owes much to psychoanalysis and the writings of Sigmund Freud, and which can be seen in the works of authors like Roald Dahl and Christopher Priest, and in the films of Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch among others.
In Regicide, the motifs of the uncanny are present from the outset. From the moment that Carl (the narrator) breaks into a strange empty house to answer a constantly ringing telephone - only to find the person at the end of the line seemingly knows his name - the reader's perception of normality is eroded. The ringing phone re-occurs as a theme, along with puzzles and maps, records playing silent messages and dogs - violent, dangerous dogs. All of these have symbolic associations, that reveal the inner workings of Carl's mind. As the narrative progresses it becomes increasingly difficult to tell what has actually happened in this reality, and what has occurred in another place, that may or may not just be an aspect of Carl's psyche.
The linear time frame of this novel is also difficult to pin down. From the clues: no mention of internet or mobile phones, mostly vinyl records but some CDs mentioned, smoking carriages on trains, etc, it would appear to take place somewhere between 1984 and 1990. The somewhat fractured presentation of time adds to the dream like surrealism, but means that this short novel requires concentration.
The title of this book is principally a reference to Un Régicide by French Novelist, Alain Robbe-Grillet. A book which Carl is reading in the story and from which some of the recurrent elements are drawn. This novel is clearly in dialogue with the themes of that work. Songs by New Wave Manchester band, the Passage also feature heavily, and together these two cultural references provide unifying background narrative. Despite these references, I was reminded in places of Alan Parker's film, The Wall based on the album by Pink Floyd.
There are many elements to this novel that I found worked exceptionally well. As Carl's life is revealed by the gradual peeling away of the layers of his psyche, there are moments of real sadness and tenderness, particularly with regards to his family background. There are also some very disturbing aspects. All this is spliced together with hints of obsession and subtle erotica, and a blurring of the lines between the outer and the inner world. This last aspect in particular I enjoyed very much, as it's a concept I have great personal interest in.
Regicide is exactly the kind of novel that appeals to me; sinister and surreal, it manages to be original, unsettling, and yet deeply human at the same time. It exemplifies the kind of uncanny fiction that distorts the readers perception of reality, but which never gets lost in meaningless philosophical abstractions. Nicholas Royle is a master of his craft and Regicide an excellent example of his work.