No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

#4: Ink -- Hal Duncan

I've been putting off this review for a month, because there is so much that I want to say about Ink (and partly about the first half of the Book of All Hours, Vellum): I have wanted to be coherent and comprehensive and witty and wise.

Instead I am just going to transcribe my notes (or rather, what I can decipher of 'em.) . A proper review can wait 'til I've read the book again, preferably straight after Vellum.

The interconnectedness of the protagonists of Vellum becomes apparent in Ink. The tricky bit is whose interpretation to believe, because it's always, almost always, one of those seven who's analysing the web of relationships.

Ink is not just a metaphor here. Ink is a voice. Ink has a voice, too.

The prose is so dense, the layers of meaning so many, that I can read the same page twice without recognition -- it repays close attention but can also be read as sheer entertainment. (There were scenes that had me laughing out loud, others that made me curl protectively around myself.)

A lyric and ludic voice, a play with and on and about words. 'Loves the sound of his own voice' is used as a criticism, but there's such ebullient delight in it here -- a delight that all but conceals the underlying rigour, the technical excellence and experimentation. Multiple voices (including a very convincing first-person plural -- does this novel, in fact, encompass every combination of person and number? First person singular: tick. Second person singular: tick. ...)

Any one of the folds of Vellum would make a fascinating setting, worthy of a novel sequence. The three-dimensional layering of those folds -- a story branched by perspective and by generation -- is both spectacular and profligate.

It's a book 'about' free will. Free will and the 'fate' that's inscribed in the Book of All Hours, in ink that's not simply ink. The Book manifests itself -- part of itself -- in other books: Liebkraft's Macromimicon, and a sequence of fictional novels from different folds, each a precise and tongue-in-cheek pastiche of genre: The Sons of Sidim (1933); The Suns of S'thuum (1947 -- a wicked homage to pulp SF); Jack Carter and the Book of the Gods (script, 1935) ... and, at last, Ink (2007).

And alongside the revolution and romance, the pastiche, the fireworks and the twangy-guitar soundtrack there's Bacchae and Pierrot, Virgil and perfect iambic pentameter, acrostics and Spoonerisms and side-snipes at The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, Lorca and Thatcher and Moorcock, oh my ...

My brain's full. I'm digesting.

- I love the book(s).
- I am not sure I like the ending, though it's effective and brings closure.
- I know I didn't get everything. What I did get is more than most books have to offer, and it's a fraction of what's in Vellum and Ink.


  1. Thanks for your thoughts. Just finished the book myself: I sure as hell didn't get everything, but that didn't stop me from enjoying the ride.

    I'm feeling rather reluctant to list Vellum and Ink on BookMooch, and not only because they're so big and expensive to send. I've got a feeling I'm going to return to these two sooner or later.

  2. I do wonder if anyone except Duncan gets *everything* in 'The Book of all Hours' -- it's so dense with imagery and myth! I can see myself coming back to the books in five or ten years and reading them with as much wonder as on first acquaintance. And there's not that many books, these days, that I'd say that about!