Mike O’Driscoll, Eyepennies (2012)

This is the first in a new series of novellas from TTA Press, the publishers of Interzone and Black Static magazines. Eyepennies is named after a song by Sparklehorse, the musical project of the late Mark Linkous, who took his own life in 2010 (and to whom Mike O’Driscoll dedicates the piece). O’Driscoll’s protagonist is not strictly a fictionalised version of Linkous, but he is a musician named Mark who’s had a near-death experience.

Mark has been beset by bad dreams and waking visions, and this has taken its toll on his life and relationships. He withdraws into his music, feeling that a new album will provide the breakthrough that can lead to stability. But, listening to his previous albums for inspiration, he can hear sounds and voices in them that shouldn’t be there.

Eyepennies is a fine portrait of a person under psychological strain. O’Driscoll maintains the ambiguity over whether Mark’s experiences are supernatural or delusional in origin (and, indeed, over whether that makes any practical difference). The novella’s fragmented structure (reaching back into different periods of the protagonist’s life) further underlines the diffuse state of Mark’s mind. This is a good start for the novella series, and I look forward to future instalments.

André Maurois, A Voyage to the Island of the Articoles (1928)
Translated from the French by Charlotte de Koch

First published in 1928 (and now given a new edition by Turtle Point Press), A Voyage to the Island of the Articoles is a novella chronicling the adventure at sea of one Pierre Chambrelan and his companion Anne de Sauves.

Though they intend to cross the Pacific, a storm causes the pair to land on the privately owned island of Maïana, where life is devoted to the arts. The island has two castes of inhabitants: the Articoles, who spend all their time creating artworks; and the Béos, who use wealth from the island’s copious natural resources to support the Articoles. Pierre and Anne are kept on Maïana for several weeks, to see if the Articoles can draw on the pair’s experiences and personalities for material.

As well as a tale of seafaring, Maurois’s novella is a study of the dangers of insularity. The Articoles have become drawn into art so much that they have disengaged with the world and lost their empathy – their idea of madness is to think about life rather than art. Pierre starts off in his own (less extreme) state of disengagement: metaphorically adrift in life, living only for the romance of the voyage (Anne wanted to accompany him for similar reasons). His experiences on Maïana lead him to take stock, and find new connections with the world and other people. Yet here Pierre is, writing a journal of his voyage, just as the Articoles would – so perhaps he hasn’t left the past behind entirely after all. A Voyage to the Island of the Articoles is entertaining and thought-provoking in equal measure.

(This review also appears on We Love This Book.)

Alison Littlewood, The Eyes of Water (2012)

This Spectral Press chapbook takes us to Mexico, where Alison Littlewood’s diver-protagonist Alex contemplates the gruesome death of his friend Rick. Far more skilled than Alex, Rick had been exploring one of the water-filled caves known as cenotés when something tore off his face. Alex learns that the Maya used the cenotés as places of sacrifice – and a vision of Rick encourages him to go exploring himself. There’s a nice sense of place about this story, particularly where the cenotés are concerned. Littlewood also constructs her plot skilfully, managing to tick all the event-boxes one expects to be ticked, whilst still leaving space for the denouement to head somewhere else.