Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Contemplating Brighter Graphite

Read 2/09/10 - 2/10/10
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended

Thanks again to the very generous people at Tatra Press for sending me this review copy.

Brighter Graphite is a collection of two novellas: "Graphite" and "Brighter"; strange, twisting tales of life and death, both set in undisclosed times, both urging the reader along the road to discovery.

In "Graphite", by far the superior of the two, we follow an obsessed man on his journey to discover why his favorite graphite pencils are snapping and breaking. Hopping off the train in the city of "Graphite", he steps into a world covered in metallic gray dust. Every footfall producing a tiny cloud of gray, every person on the street wearing a thin veil of gray, even the sun is dulled by the invisible gray particles floating in the air.

Taking a tour of the pencil factory, our protagonist can determine no reason for the sudden change in quality of the pencils. Upset, and confused, he decides to take a dip in the Graphite Lake, where he happens upon one of the town's old timers - who shares an important piece of information that will change the course of our main characters life, and restore the strength of his beloved graphite pencils.

A peculiar twist in this 64 page novella turns this curious story into a tale of mystery and horror.

In the opening pages of "Brighter", we discover our narrator bound to a tall stake, unable to defend himself from the birds that are attacking him. As the story unravels, we come to find that he was once both an artist, and art dealer... who would do anything he could to aquire the best paintings the art world had to offer. In the midst of his conquests we realise there is a war brewing between the Romantics and the Formalists, two very different classes of artists. Drawing attention to himself, he is made to particpate in The Proof - an ancient and deadly test - which is at once an honor and a death sentence.

Does our man burn the brightest when put to the test?

Michael Horvath's writing reminds me of Nabokov, strangely lucid and dreamlike. Painfully personal, his narrators are well aware of their weaknesses and while never apologetic, the reader can't help but feel sorry for them and their situations.

Both novellas are written in a hectic, methodical way, forcing you to read quickly in an effort to catch up and learn what is taking place, what is happening to these unfortunate, tormented men.

Most interesting to me is the way the stories linger with me after
the cover has been closed, and the book has been shelved, haunting me.

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