An intriguing book that addresses many big issues (love, sex, death, power, the nature and reliability of human memory, history, culture, human potential, the constraints of 21st century society, and more) within an unusual structure of mini-chapters punctuated by audio and video clips.
The contrasting settings of busy, businesslike Manhattan and the ghost town of a nearby decaying seaside resort are only the backdrop to huge flights of fancy into the minds of the characters, explored by the newly psychic hero Jaymi. As he delves into their memories, sights and sounds from all over the world - real and imagined - spill forth, from war-torn Vietnam to idyllic classical gardens, beneath the oceans and into outer space. All of these experiences are described with a larger-than-life intensity that put me strangely in mind of Coleridge's Kublai Khan - and occasionally its drug-induced origins too!
It's not an easy or comfortable read, particularly when closely examining mental and physical cruelty and violence between some of the characters. I read with a constant sense of foreboding. However even the most shocking passages are underpinned by the compassion, pity and tenderness of the narrator for all but the most brutal characters. There's also some very welcome, very British understated humour to offset some of the horror. The brevity of the "mini-chapters" was well-judged - I felt I needed to come up for air after some of the short episodes, and to assimilate the latest action before moving on.
The immediacy of the story is more keenly felt because it is written in the present tense - always more demanding on the reader, I find, and even more so in this case because although most is in the first person, there are also many second-person narratives, where Jaymi is reading the minds of other characters and addressing them: "You move closer..." That the author is able to keep the reader not only engaged but tantalised by this difficult mode of storytelling indicates the power of his prose.
Though it's very much a modern book, with the constraints of modern life as one of its themes, there are touches of the classic about it too, reminding this reader of Johnson's Rasselas (at risk of sounding pretentious and also doubting my own memory, as it's about 30 years since I read that book!) Jaymi is really in many ways an innocent abroad, though he thinks he is so knowing. He may be able to read people's minds in details, but some of the simplest conclusions pass him by.
As I turned the pages, I found myself puzzling how on earth this intense tale would end. Without spoiling the plot, I can say I found the conclusion surprising, redemptive and satisfying.
My Kindle wasn't able to cope with the audio and video files, and the prose was compelling enough to make me want to skip those and get on with the story, but it was an interesting idea to include them - more evidence of the author's prodigious creativity. So, here we have not so much an imagination thief, but, to the reader, an imagination expander. Great stuff - thank you, Rohan Quine.