Contemporary Fiction, 2009
I initially thought I was going to love The Lunatic Messiah early on when I came across a darkly humorous scene. Joe Finch, a lecturer in the European Literature Faculty of the University of Sydney, decides to create a deliberately pretentious and opaque piece of work that he will pass off as an unpublished piece of writing by Tolstoy in final days, just so that he can get a private laugh when a student in his class takes the writing seriously and starts psychoanalyzing the author of that writing. Imagine Joe’s face when this student, Gabriel Armaita, ends up diagnosing the writer with spectacular accuracy – in this case, the writer is Joe. Pegged by a pretentious know-it-all as a sexually and emotionally deprived loser who harbors plenty of resentment toward people who lead more fulfilling lives than his, or in simple terms, “a worthless loser”, poor Joe is not amused.
And then I turn to Chapter 2 and there it is, a complete change of point of view, with first person narration duty from Joe who is now in India awaiting a kidney transplant in what seems like a black market environment. Okay.
On to Chapter 3… where it’s back to third person narration and Joe is now back home, as if he had never been to India. He had a seizure, apparently, at work and his wife Mary is surprised to learn of it from Joe’s Head of Department, Harry.
Chapter 4 goes back to India, with first person point of view, and Chapter 5 goes back to wherever Joe lives, back to third person point of view. And so forth.
The end result is an head-scratching story of some fellow named Simon Cutting who is trying way too hard to smart and clever with his head hopping and vague allusions and deliberate obfuscations. It’s like reading an effort from a first year liberal arts student who is trying way too hard to impress people with his “intellectual” writing. I feel as if I’ve been placed in Gabriel Armaita’s shoes in this story, but I’m going to spare Mr Cutting’s ego this time around and refrain from making some unflattering armchair psychoanalysis based on his writing. Even if such deliberate pretentiousness is begging for a punchline, really.
The first chapter shows promise, but subsequent chapters degenerate quickly enough into a mess of incoherent and smarmy pseudo-intellectual babbling. The author has a pretty good sense of humor judging from the first chapter, but he loses me completely by happily erasing all traces of readability in his story. It’s not the story that is the problem here, it’s the technique used by the author – the head-hopping is too abrupt and there are way too many contrived attempts to blanket this story in opaque pseudobabble in a misguided effort to equate “edgy” with “completely unreadable”. File this one under “Weed required to assist in clarity”.