Author: Tanith Lee
Publisher: Immanion Press, 2014
Sometimes I wrestle with the books I read, and Turquoiselle by Tanith Lee was one of those titles that both infuriated me and fascinated me by equal measure. Mainly because I ask myself, “Why is this book making me feel this way and what does this say about me as a reader?”
I often feel that many books nowadays give up their secrets too quickly. This is not one of those books. We enter Andy Carver’s world and from the get-go it’s not very clear who this man is nor what his motivations are. In fact, I suspect that Carver hasn’t ever truly bothered to scratch beneath the surface yet, so in that regard is not an easy character to relate to or indeed like.
The story’s pacing is slow and gradually reveals clues to Carver’s past: his troubled childhood and how he came to work for an organisation called Mantik, whose purpose I don’t even think Carver understands or cares to uncover.
Carver exists in an eternal present and has no strong interests about anything or anyone beyond himself. He is a narcissistic cipher, and perceiving the world through his eyes is almost maddening. He has no friends, and how on earth he even got it together to get married, I don’t know. Unsurprisingly, his marriage is dysfunctional, and it doesn’t seem to bother him.
I feel as if Carver merely goes through the motions of life because society and his work expect it of him. The only quirk of his personality is that he occasionally indulges in small bouts of kleptomania – always taking small, unimportant items that he then stashes in a shed in his back garden.
Of course things do begin to take a strange(r) turn in Carver’s life yet he remains passive – waiting to see what others do first before he reacts. This passivity nearly drove me nuts, but I’m glad I persisted in seeing the story through to its conclusion. People behave strangely around Carver, and I had no idea why. I needed to find out. Granted, this gets revealed later, so I don’t want to ruin it for you with any spoilers, suffice to say that there are a few reversals to do your head in.
Now to get down to the meat and bones of this story. This novel is most emphatically *not* for everyone. I was simultaneously reminded of Twin Peaks and William Burroughs – every gradual unfolding was languid and surreal, and seemed unrelated, random and dreamlike.
Lee’s writing is not so much about the narrative structure, but also about the oppressive sense of claustrophobia and mystery apparent in her setting. As always, her descriptions are lavish, detailed – to be savoured.
I think longstanding fans of Lee’s writing will be right at home. Me, I’m dithering on this one. Loved it and felt resistance at the same time, but realise it’s most likely because I’ve been lazy in my choices of reading matter of late. This book required effort on my part. I kept thinking of The Magus by John Fowles while reading Turquoiselle, and probably for good reason. Make of that what you will.