on 24 May 2011
A STORY TO GET YOU THINKING
The Berries on Mulvy Island by Dr. Peter Marshall, is about a group of people on the strangest of quests you could ever imagine, going in search of the foundations of human reality itself. They go to an enchanted island, where they experience, in a state of narcotic dreams, a bizarre journey through places that are allegorical of lessons they must learn. These places include a stage. They encounter people in a state of gullible daze, some in red and some in blue coats and at one point the group arrive at a precipice beyond which is a threatening chasm so deep the bottom cannot be seen. Throughout the journey, their world is full of contradictions. There is dark light, talking without speaking, listening without hearing, the faster they move the less distance they travel , down is up and up is down, and many, many more such contradictions. In one chapter the main character finds himself flying in the bizarrest of romantic settings. In another the group find all the wisdom of the ages written on stone tablets. One of the important lessons is that people can be whatever they want to be. They can build castles in the air and the most important thing about the world is our acceptance of myths, because they are the stablest things we have.
The world keeps disappearing, and at one point, the characters wake up from a dream within another dream to find the world covered in snow - an ice age. When they reach the chasm one character knows he has to cross to learn the final lesson and that he will never see the others again after he does, for there is no way back.
The story refers to a reality constructed in times of distant antiquity, when human consciousness itself was born, and it describes this in allegorical terms, the building of caves where people huddled to avoid the unthinkable questions. From there knowledge institutions such as libraries gradually built up our sense of reality for us.
The themes in the book include critical looks at social norms, justice, language, religion, philosophy, and much more. All of these are dealt with in an allegorical way. Even human social life is explored in part of the journey called the valley of the drama of life.
There is a chapter, where one of the characters makes love to a supernatural being, a sort of ghost, although it is never made clear quite what it is and it is all the more eerie as a result. Immediately prior to this incident the character happens to be munching berries that it would appear are responsible for the hallucinatory experience. However, they are referred to quite inappropriately as grapes, a point of which you will only see the relevance of if you check out the accuracy of the claims being made in this article. .
The tone in the story is sympathetic towards the characters. It is a baleful tale.
Various uninvited guides appear to the group throughout the story and a bird (rather than a horse) seems to keep appearing, apparently following them. One of the most memorable images is where the guide of the travellers appears in the sky so large, that his legs bestride the cosmos.
Clearly, any well read literary person will conclude that this appears to be a complete rip-off of Ben Okri's novel Astonishing the Gods. Moreover, I have only been able to refer to a small range of similarities between the two books in this article, anyone who has read both would have been literally astonished at the blatant, undeniable similarities, so much so that many of the very words and phrases and the many peculiar literary devices are more or less identical.
Except that this was written many years before Okri's novel. In fact it was started when Okri would have been about nine years old and, after the seven long years it took to complete, it was shortlisted for a literary prize while Okri was still a student reading English Literature at Cambridge. In fact it was in the Cambridge News that it received its best review at the time, thereafter drifting into obscurity, as few works with high literary ambitions become mass sellers. Six years later, after his graduation Okri brought out his book. It cannot, therefore, be that Marshall ripped off Okri.