(2008) William Heaney, Gollancz, £9.99, hrdbk, 337pp, ISBN 978-0-575-08297-7
This work focuses on events in the life of a character called William Heaney, a government advisor of sorts who has a sideline in forging antiquarian books along with his three best friends, and writing best-selling modern poetry. An interesting enough concept to start a book with, but add to this a sub-plot of two mysterious Gulf War veterans, a homeless shelter badly in need of some funding, a romance with an enigmatic younger woman, and occult rituals and you have an extremely unique set-up for this supposed true-life autobiography. And that is just a handful of the plot-threads to get you started! It is a novel that encompasses a great deal, but having said that the book flows well and is extremely readable. The suspense is notched up by flicking back and forth in time, from Heaney's problems in the present day (the aforementioned forging, coupled with the tangled lives of him and his friends), and the strange, seemingly occult events which took place when he was in college, and resulted in the disappearance of four of his former girlfriends.
It goes without saying that duality is a key theme of the novel, starting with Heaney's double-life as government advisor and as a forger. That one of these roles is mired in deception gives a clear message as to the nature of the novel (or rather, its narrator); that the story and everything in it could just as easily be fiction, another fake dreamt up by Heaney. But then it gets confusing - it is obvious that this is fiction, hence the presence of the 'demons' that Heaney sees everywhere. Are these real? There is no definite answer to that question, and their existence is precariously placed between the real and the metaphorical. There did not seem to be any clear purpose in including them in the narrative though, unless Heaney (the real one, that is) is trying to make a comment upon plausibility. That the book purports to be his own memoir supports that, if muddying the waters in the process.
It is bold in its concept, but with so many elements to the plot one would wonder if it holds together as a complete work. The switching between past and present does keep you intrigued, and adds a rather nice thriller element to the book. It is perhaps less clear though exactly what (if any) genre the author is aiming for over all. The book is presented as a genuine autobiography of William Heaney, master forger, but I would find it incredibly difficult to categorise the book further; it has elements of family drama, romance, mystery, the supernatural, political satire, anti-war rhetoric and crime writing. Indeed, something for everyone. Whether it is all woven together well enough for us to feel satisfied, that we 'get it' - I am afraid the jury is still out on that one.
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