The Wanderer by Timothy Jarvis
Publisher: Perfect Edge
Released: August 2014
1.5 stars for storyline, 4 stars for writing ability
Reviewed by Lavinia Ludlow
Written by a talented author with a style and vocabulary beyond his time (perhaps centuries), The Wanderer could be an entertaining tale for anyone with a keen interest in the bizarre and who can stomach 328 pages (including the disorienting and long-winded end notes irritatingly peppered throughout the text,) of befuddling mystery, superfluous gore, and what seems to blend futuristic bizzaro sci-fi with magical realism.
The book begins intriguingly high in conflict, when a well-known London writer’s disappearance raises questions of foul play, suicide, and even the paranormal. All that’s left in his flat are belongings that depict a very solitary reclusive life, a smoldering cigarette, and a manuscript.
“It seems, then, Peterkin simply ceased to be, slipped out of existence, or passed into some other realm of being. Uncannily, certain of his macabre tales describe similar disappearances.”
But then we get into Peterkin’s manuscript, which depicts an immortal man haunted by an ominous presence that commits violent atrocities around town, and leaves a trail of gruesome remains for his discovery. From there, the story nosedives into eye-roll-able clichés. Suddenly, he’s chasing some woman to a mausoleum then following a rat to open a coffin that leads to a stairwell, which leads him underground where a congregation of old dudes in robes are standing around a fire in a barrel. Every scene thereafter is a guessing game of, “whose hacked up corpse is he going to stumble on now?” or “what random situation without explanation is he going to get himself into?”
The consistent hooks wear thin very early on. One can only be kept in suspense and question for so long without anecdote, especially when the details are so bizarre. There’s constant mention of a Punch and Judy show, then he’s inexplicably walking across a field of body parts, then he’s being eaten by cannibals but can’t die because he’s immortal, then he’s punching a lion, then he’s tangled in intestines, then there’s a monster in Hampston Heath eating kids.
The purpose of the vile imagery may pass over my realm of understanding, but I’m a firm believer that form must always have function. Sometimes it seems as if the author has some perversion for depicting the most gruesome atrocities for the sake of seeing how much he can get away with.
Transitions are fast-paced and lack emotional development. The protagonist weeps, shutters, admits his derangement, but there is little exploration of his emotional state to prove such reactions believable. At times, he comes off as a mere sociopathic schmuck with antisocial tendencies.
I also detest the long-winded, list-like descriptions, as if he leaned on a few random pages of a thesaurus and rattled off 15 adjectives for the sake of having 15 different words to describe something. The stream of consciousness rambling and narrator retrospective gets annoying fast. I don’t need a chronic update on the protagonist’s thought process or storytelling. Every other segment seems to have something along the lines of:
“Perhaps the proper way to have started…”
“I decided simply to start at the beginning…”
“…lest I lose the momentum I’ve built up, press on.”
“I’ve neglected to tell this part of the story…”
“I must again apologise for a lengthy digression…”
Tell the story. Don’t fill the pages with fluff and waffling false starts.
A hauntingly unsettling read from the very start, particularly reading while living in Soho, London, Jarvis has an…interesting debut novel on his hands. He has a rare talent to slather on the drama, to narrate horrific images with an articulate and proper, almost haughty, narrative voice. Rare and in between, I enjoy the quieter moments when he puts down the blood and guts, and stretches his literary abilities in other directions. There are moments when I find his writing eloquently beautiful:
“…the lights of waterfront buildings reflected in the river below, gemstones strewn on a jeweller’s blackcloth.”
I am interested to see what other projects he has on his hands, ones with a lesser focus on the bizarre and violent.
Lavinia Ludlow is a musician, writer, and occasional contortionist. Her debut novel alt.punk can be purchased through major online retailers as well as Casperian Books’ website. Her sophomore novel Single Stroke Seven was signed to Casperian Books and will release in the distant future. In her free time, she is a reviewer at Small Press Reviews, The Nervous Breakdown, American Book Review, and now The Next Best Book Blog.