Just in time, I have read the third of the three nominated books for the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award, which will be awarded at the Atlantic Book Awards on the evening of May 10 in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
And what an unusual and intriguing book it is.
Blood Fable tells a story within a story. But not just any story-within-a-story… one of high adventure and fantasy, told to his parents by an eleven-year-old boy. He lives with his parents, Myles and Iris, in a Buddhist community that is on the verge of falling apart. His cat was just mistaken for a raccoon and shot, and his mother has been diagnosed with cancer. In addition to this, Myles and Iris are under a lot of stress and have many mature, heated discussions around their son. As a way of escaping, and influenced by the adventure stories he’s been reading, the boy starts telling his parents a tale about a lost city; involving ships and stowaways, giant birds and otters, underground caves and tunnels, comets and space travel. Myles and Iris believe their son to be telling the story of his life before birth.
Let me tell you a story, a tale of derring-do, of cunning, tenacity, and ruthless ambition to become your child. It will be grand and miraculous and carved in stone, and when it is done you will understand why I had to make you bring me into this world.
As the book moves forward, and the narrative moves back and forth between the present (1980, Maine) and the adventure tale, the reader starts to notice small connections between the stories until the events in the story-within-the-story begin to parallel the events happening in their present lives. And the ending brings us full circle to the events and questions at the beginning.
There are no chapters, but instead there are small breaks in the narrative as the two stories flow back and forth, little (or big) surprises on almost every page. Dense with imagery and detail, beautifully written, and full of imagination, but possibly requiring another read-through to entirely “get” all the layers and messages in the story. It’s also possible that each reader will come away with their own understanding. It is well worth finding out.
… maybe a dragon is a refracted dinosaur. Maybe quiet country people went through Tolkien’s mind and shape-shifted into hobbits on their way out onto his page. Maybe Aristotle is wrong and art is a prism, not a mirror held to nature. Or maybe the mind is the prism and the refraction is the art that emerges on the other side. And if so, good thing, because without art’s prismatic effect, dragons and their kin would be homeless. Where would the fantastical live if it weren’t for books and drawings, sculptures, movies, and the brains of daydreaming schoolchildren?
Happily, Curran’s first book, Mopus (2007), promises to be a similarly experimental novel. I’ll have to track it down.
A couple of good lines…
A disappearing island is romantic to contemplate but aggravating to look for…
Slow light leaks out of hidden pockets like it’s been hiding in the water, in sand, rocks, and grass all night.
The other two books nominated for the award are A Bird on Every Tree by Carol Bruneau (my review) and All is Beauty Now by Sarah Faber (my review). And here’s a delightful tidbit… Oisín Curran and Sarah Faber are married and live in Cape Breton with their two children. The gala on May 10th will be a nice “date night” for them.