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An Eerie Quest for Invisibility
Trust me on this: Graham Joyce is one of the best British novelists to arrive on the scene in the last ten years, and you need to read him. He is, at the moment, better known in England than he is over here, but that situation could change, and quickly. In the last few years, three of his novels have been published on this side of the Atlantic: Requiem, The Tooth Fairy, and Dark Sister, each of which received the British Fantasy Award as Best Novel of its respective year. His latest, Indigo, has just been issued in America by Pocket Books, and it should go a long way toward securing Joyce the readership he deserves.
According to the publicity material, Indigo is being touted as Joyce's "first suspense novel," a marketing ploy that makes the book sound a good deal more conventional than it actually is. Indigo is, certainly, a novel of suspense. But it is also a subtle, deliberately ambiguous exploration of the mysteries of human perception; a novel about parents, children, and family relationships; a case study in the corrupting effects of power; and a lovingly detailed evocation of two very different cities: Chicago and Rome. Most of all, it is a story about the universal search for transcendence, for a higher level of reality hidden beyond the borders of the visible world.
The hero of Indigo is Jack Chambers, a childless, twice-divorced British process server, who comes to Chicago to act as executor for his recently deceased father's estate. Tim Chambers, Jack's father, was a mysterious, manipulative, charismatic figure, who had a profound, sometimes destructive, influence on the lives of those around him, and who continues, even after death, to preside over the novel's central events. While attempting to dispose of his father's various bequests, Jack Chambers travels from Chicago -- where he develops uncomfortably close feelings for Louise Durrell, the half-sister he has never known -- to Rome -- where he enters into a powerfully erotic relationship with an enigmatic American sculptress, a relationship that almost results in his death. Along the way, Jack encounters, either directly or through various outside accounts, a number of the victims of Tim Chambers's messianic obsessions.
The nature of these obsessions is spelled out in an unpublished manuscript entitled Invisibility: A Manual of Light, chapters of which are scattered throughout the primary text. Invisibility is a kind of user's guide to alternate states of being, providing the uninitiated with a series of exercises designed to lead to a new -- and dangerous -- level of awareness: the ability to perceive the invisible, possibly non-existent shade of indigo. According to Tim Chambers, the manuscript's author, access to the color indigo -- which, if it exists, would fall somewhere between blue and violet on the visible spectrum -- also implies access to a higher level of being, a world of color and clarity beyond the limits of the five standard senses. Indigo is the Holy Grail of this novel, a physical and spiritual goal to which every major character -- Jack Chambers included -- eventually aspires.
Against the backdrop of this larger, all-encompassing mystery, Joyce presents us with a series of smaller mysteries and skillfully delineated personal dramas, including: Jack's incestuous attraction to Louise Durrell; the motives and identity of his artist/lover, who goes by the name of Natalie Shearer, and whose essential character is predatory, even wolf-like; and the interrelated fates of two young artists who died or disappeared while under the influence of Tim Chambers. But the real heart of the novel -- the still point around which everything else revolves -- is the eternal quest for transcendence, for a sense of personal connection to the hidden, animating forces of the world.
For some of the characters, transcendence takes unusual forms. One man, a vanity publisher and connoisseur of Chicago's strip clubs, searches obsessively for the ultimate, impossibly perfect nude dancer. A woman subject to epileptic seizures finds hints of the sublime within the seizures themselves, which seem to offer her "a promise of revelation, as if the universe itself might split open and admit an incident of angelic ferocity. A message. A meaning." But for most of the characters, the quest for perfection is inextricably connected to the quest for indigo, which, as Jack's Roman lover eventually tells him, "represents what you hope to find. Love. Revelation. Inspiration. The moment that pours into your life and makes it bigger than it was before."
Joyce's ability to articulate this fundamental sense of longing gives his novel a depth, a visionary clarity of purpose, that lifts it well above the level of the garden variety suspense novel. Indigo, like virtually everything else Joyce has published, is a genuine original, the product of a writer with enormous gifts and a highly individual vision. Indigo does what very few novels manage to do: It entertains and enlightens, and alters our perception of the ordinary, everyday world. If you're the kind of reader who is constantly in search of intelligent, original, unsettling fiction, then give this book -- and all of its predecessors -- a try. Graham Joyce is everything you've been looking for. You can trust me on this.