After reading and praising Aston’s inventiveness and originality in his short stories I would have been surprised if he’d given us something simple in his first go at a longer work. Many writers would have opted for something easier, gone for the lower rung. Aston was never going to do that, which is one of the things I like about him. I get the sense that he’s determined to challenge both himself and us, and he’s not going to let up with that.
I once read a quote about Angela Carter along the lines that we applauded her even when she reached and missed. Carter, that most inventive and adventurous of stylists, never stopped trying to dazzle, never performed one somersault when she could go for three. I have the same feeling about Archie Aston. I have a feeling that he is going to be a great writer. But while he’s a good way along the road, he’s not quite there yet.
Aston’s book, Passengers, carries three stories within itself. The day-to-day life of the writer – stuck in a dead-end job and living with a pouting girlfriend – and the story that he is writing – something along the lines of a fantasy novel where his characters have chosen to live apart from society – are two. But when the writer passes out on cheap wine he dreams, and while passed out he enters into a subconscious world where characters from his story join him in a surreal quest through hordes of geese and mouths of whales in search of….I suppose in search of the conclusion of things. And that’s essentially what ties the three strands together: all the stories are in search of a common conclusion.
As stories tend to be, of course. But that’s what the book is about: The search for self, for meaning, for identification, and as the three strands begin to twine together similarities become apparent and tumblers click, while there are enough plot twists to keep you turning the dial. In terms of the three narrative voices, the day-to-day writer voice was the one that I believed in, while the other two, at least in terms of believability, lacked something. I’m still left wondering if that was Aston’s purpose, if he wrote these in their particular, somewhat immature narrative styles as an intended literary device. With the box of tricks that this young writer already has in his possession, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s tricked us again – or if he does just need to keep writing a while longer before he fully comes into himself. At this point, it’s only time that will tell. Is it worth a read? Of course. But read it yourself and tell me what you think.
Review by Noel Maurice.
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