There was a thesaurus of vagueness about remembering

Martin JohnMartin John
by Anakana Schofield

This is a strange novel about a strange man. Schofield uses a fractured structure to inhabit a fractured mind. It’s a disturbing read, as it should be considering the topics it covers. It’s also occasionally funny, in a very very dark way.

Martin John is an Irishman living in London. He’s obsessive compulsive, fixated on certain people and he knows his coping mechanisms can only help him for so long. The degree to which this is a disturbing tale is at first obscured by the odd experimental narrative. It is written in the plural first person. It jumps in time. It questions itself and lists rules. It rarely uses full sentences. It is a lot like a Greek chorus in a play.

“He does not believe that people who go off bridges can be saved. He believes it’s reasonable to want to go over the side of a bridge. He does not believe people fundamentally change. He has struggled with this himself. Has he tried? We do not know. There are some things we aren’t going to know about Martin John.”

Martin John phones his Mam back in Ireland regularly and he visits Auntie Noanie every Wednesday. His Mam tells him to never take the tube, to stop talking rubbish, to get a job at night to keep him busy.

There are clues planted from the start as to what Martin John does when he is not in control. Page 11 contains only the words “What they don’t know: Flashing is a very angry act.” He is constantly worried about “meddlers” and becomes convinced that one of the men who rents a room in the same house as him is trying to meddle.

“Because he didn’t remember and remember, if he didn’t remember, then how could they ascertain who did remember? And who would be more likely to remember? There was a thesaurus of vagueness about remembering. Between all the remembering she grew anxious, weary and retreated. Maybe she didn’t remember either?”

There are events – pretty major ones – but they occur out of order, from different perspectives. The end result is so fractured and disorienting that it becomes possible to empathise with Martin John. He is constantly confused, he feels under attack, he can’t always distinguish reality from his self-created fictions. It is deeply uncomfortable to realise that you are feeling sorry for a sexual predator.

First published 2015 by Biblioasis. Published in the UK by And Other Stories.

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