Saturday, 12 May 2012

‘Immobility’ – Brian Evenson (Tor)

It was way back in 2008 when I first read Brian Evenson’s ‘Last Days’; the blog was only just over a year old at that point… I feel all nostalgic. Talk about derailing myself before I’ve even started writing! I read ‘Last Days’ and, despite a couple of issues with the book, thoroughly enjoyed it and wanted more. You can read my full review Here or have couple of paragraphs for free below…

‘Last Days’ is one of those awkward books that leave me completely awestruck and with no idea how to get what I think into a blog post. It’s only a hundred and seventy two pages long but it feels like more as you get deeper into a real corkscrew of a plot. You’re pulled in with the promise of a journey but your final destination won’t be where you think it is and you might have trouble finding your way back again...’

‘Last Days’ is an intense and unsettling read that I’m definitely going to go back to and read again.’

As is often the case with this blog though, not only did I never go back and re-read ‘Last Days’ but I never picked up anything else by Evenson either (despite a couple of tie-in novels of his coming through the door). So many books to read and hardly any time to read them in I guess. That changed though when a copy of ‘Immobility’ came through the door. The blurb caught my eye straight away and the book fitted straight in with my current policy of short commuter reads (yep, that old chestnut again) so there was nothing for it but to get reading. And so I did only to find that ‘Immobility’ was no ‘Last Days’, not by a long way…

Josef Horkai has been awake for hours before he can even remember his own name. He certainly can’t remember why he is paralysed from the waist down or why he was in storage in the first place. There’s no time for discussion though, a man tells Josef that he must travel into the ruined lands outside and rescue something that was stolen before his time runs out. Now Josef is being carried through a desolate landscape on the back of a man wearing a hazard suit and something really doesn’t add up about the whole thing…

What a blurb eh? You have what looks like a good dose of the post apocalypse and a lead character that is just brimming over with questions about where he fits into it all. If that wasn’t enough, our hero has to complete a mission where everything is at stake. What’s not to like? You would think that ‘Immobility’ has everything it needs to be a compelling and rewarding read wouldn’t you?

Well, yes and no.

Evenson sets things up very well initially, leaving his readers really feeling the nightmarish disorientation Horkai feels after he is woken up. There’s a real sense of Horkai as a blank slate, just waiting to be filled up with detail, that you can’t help but find more than a little unnerving. I couldn’t help but think, ‘what if that was me in his position…?’
The problem I found was that Evenson seemed to want to delve into this feeling of uncertainty a little too much for what is only a two hundred and fifty three page book. The upshot here is that you get a lot of atmosphere with not an awful lot going on. You could argue that this is the way it’s meant to be with Evenson deliberately taking his time to show us just what Horkai is going through mentally. I’d say that may be the case but it was an approach that had me looking out of the window while I waited for things to kick off. I’ve always thought that the shorter a book is the more quickly it needs to get moving, that clearly doesn’t happen here.

When things finally do get moving, Evenson very cleverly ramps up the stakes (and tension) without really telling us what’s at stake. I liked that, Horkai doesn’t know what’s going on but he does know that it’s important and, by extension, so do we. Evenson gets Horkai and his two companions moving and then promptly drowns the story in atmosphere again, this time through the apocalypse of the ‘Kollaps’.
You never really find out what caused the ‘Kollaps’ but you are left in no doubt what the result is; miles upon miles of wasteland where the only inhabitants (for much of it) are Horkai and his companions. Horkai’s monologue gets monotonous after a while and the dreary bleakness of the landscape is so well done that it actually doesn’t offer much of an alternative to Horkai’s ramblings. There’s nothing to see, it’s all dead.

Horkai is travelling for much of the book so you can imagine how this all builds up into something quite irritating (in a way). Horkai is full of questions but because he gets very little in the way of answers they’re all the same questions over and over again. Again, all very atmospheric but nothing is really moving forwards.
By the time things start to fall into place, it was almost too late for me to really care. This was a shame as an interesting little sub-plot (long term versus short term survival) starts to spring up although it doesn’t really have time to get going. The twist in the tale is signposted clearly, a mile off, but is brutal and urgent enough to offset this.

A good concept then and one that kept me reading through to the end. ‘Immobility’ needed to be a lot more than that to work though and the overdose of atmosphere rendered the plot, well… immobile. I’d say check out ‘Last Days’ if you want to see Evenson at his best.

Seven out of Ten

1 comment:

big_cheddars said...

I don't get it... Graeme, could you explain how you get all these books in all these different genres from all these different authors and publishers? Do you get them free because you're a valued reviewer or do you buy them all?

Because you seem to say sometimes that publishers just send you bunches of books that you review, and I just wanted to ask because it was confusing me.

Thanks :)