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Saturday, 5 July 2014

Cave & Julia, by M. John Harrison, Reviewed.

A book that is small in page numbers, but larger by far in content, Cave & Julia is set in Autotelia and London. I’ve not come across the author’s work before and was intrigued enough by the story to do some research. Autotelia is the name given to an imaginary place in which other stories are set. The word itself struck me as real rather than imagined, so I looked further. I found a Portuguese dictionary that told me it means: the doctrine that a work of art, especially a work of literature, is an end in itself or provides its own justification. I found no other entries in English dictionaries.

Enough. The story, if that’s what it can be called, is about relationships and, possibly, dreams. But, oddly, that doesn’t seem to matter. It’s a work that recalled to mind D.H. Lawrence’s The Trespasser in tone. It’s a piece of narrative without the usual hooks on which to hang a story. We are introduced to the narrative character, Cave, a journalist, and to Julia, much married and partially destroyed by an unclear event in her childhood. Some attempt is made by Cave to investigate the event, but it is left a question, with insufficient detail to determine what really happened.

The language is fine and always appropriate. An air of mystery and uncertainty pervades the whole tale. Nothing is as it seems, or, perhaps it is. This is a piece of writing that leaves the reader full of questions; impressed but uncertain why that should be.

It’s one of the Amazon Kindle Singles, and is tagged as a fantasy short. At 15 pages it is short, and, existing, as it does, in a space difficult to identify or even in some senses understand, it is fantasy, but fantasy of a literary sort.

I found myself intrigued, curious, disturbed and entertained. But be aware, this is not a story for those looking for a beginning, middle and end, with a denouement or indeed any formal structure. This is more an evocation, an illustration, an account. I enjoyed it, as, I suspect, will those who like things that are not spelled out for them.
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