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What a woeful wail - "I made a mistake"...
on 19 November 2013
`Benjamin Wood was awarded a scholarship to attend the MFA Creative Writing Programme at the University of British Columbia, Canada.' That could be the explanation for his sometimes unusual use of language that just doesn't go with the essential Englishness of this sparkling novel. No one I know says `courthouse', or smokes `cloves'. I looked them up, they are pseudo cigarettes, half cloves and half tobacco, as dangerous to health as a normal smoke. Not that the particular smoker here needed to worry about the long-term effects of that...
Such strange subject matter as healing hypnosis augmented by powerful music seems wacky and original, so yes the premise was attractive and beguiling, I did even begin to wonder if it might be possible. Eden Bellwether is one of those one off's; clearly talented, hugely indulged, fierce, odd, and randomly bonkers. A wild and unpredictable young man who truthfully everyone should steer well clear of. Possessive to the `nth degree of his fey and floaty med student sister Iris he just radiates obsession. Surrounded by a `flock', a clique of cardboard characters who act as a chorus, he manipulates and plays with people, mostly under the guise of his imagining he can help them. Only to prove his own extraordinary powers of course, not for altruistic reasons. Supported by substantial family wealth and elitist background; his random acts of wildly over confident, determined, maniacal behaviour can flourish and develop dreadfully. All to the soundtrack of sacred music, so thickly referenced and described, you can almost hear it.
Into all this drifts more ordinary Oscar Lowe, a thoroughly good sort who is enchanted by organ music coming from a college chapel. He falls head over heels for Iris and becomes her knight in shining white care worker overalls. This is the hook that keeps you reading really, he is a man we can understand and relate to, one who stubbornly holds on to what he believes to be right. His relationship with one of his elderly charges is rewarding and encouraging although the byways of that thread become tangled with the arrival of his mentor's old boyfriend, Herbert Guest, whose departure from the scene was shrouded in 1930's scandal, one which is far from satisfactorily explained.
Opening with the end, just no clue as to whom the worst has happened to or why, the story grows and builds, rising to a creaking crescendo that leaves you gasping for air, rather like Eden B... Altogether a stirring story that overrides the slightly jarring writerly quirks. "Raining canteloupes", "Sweet as molasses"...mutter mutter!