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Reality. It's a tricky business.
on 20 February 2015
The world is unfair to Simon Ings.
With his mash-up of multi-layered narrative, cyberpunky characters and deep interest in how technology perverts us, there's a goodish chance that on some alternative planet he's as lauded as JG Ballard and David Mitchell.
`The Weight of Numbers' seemed, for a short while in 2006, on the verge of becoming his breakthrough novel, but the right butterfly didn't flap its wings at the right time. Meanwhile `Wolves' has 7 reviews on Amazon and `The Bone Clocks', 259.
Does Ings care? `Wolves' certainly doesn't chase readers. The novel nods to the ever-popular Dystopian World genre, but refuses to get dramatic in tone or narrative. It's a story of human relationships, but the characters are opaque and diffuse.
The novel starts fantastically well. Conrad, our twenty-something, sexually ambivalent narrator (also known as `Connie'), is in a desultory relationship with a woman who has huge, white, robotic hands. He receives a call from boyhood friend Michel. Thus begins a journey both back into the past and into the future.
The world Ings builds is a singular one. Drab housing estates, floods, a long-standing war that seems to hardly affect the wider population, point to the present. But futuristic image recognition technology comes to play an increasingly important part, reflecting the novel's main theme of appearances and disappearances, the elusive nature of reality.
Conrad has grown up in a roadside hotel with a bipolar mother and a father who runs a side business trying to improve the vision of soldiers blinded in the war. He now works in the field of Augmented Reality (roughly two steps on from VR), bringing two-dimensional advertising to life. Michel is obsessed with `The Fall', rather like the Michael Shannon character in `Take Shelter', and has become a writer of End Times fiction (Ings takes some snitty and ill-advised potshots at `commercial' novels). Their lives move closer together again in complex and uneasy ways. There is also a central mystery involving Conrad's mother.
Ings is a terrific phrasemaker. His tone is pleasingly jaundiced. His characters do lack vividness, however. The narrative is choppy, and can drift. Putting a novelist character into a novel always seems lazy and vain on the part of the author. So not a perfect work, but still one that often challenges and involves.