I cannot now remember when and where I first heard about Rupert Thomson's 1996 novel The Insult, but while I was reading it I noticed that Maud Newton is a big fan, so it was probably from her. Anyway, I have now read said book, and a strange one it is too.
For the first 25o pages of this book, the story is narrated in the first person by Martin Blom. He begins by telling us how, while visiting the supermarket one Thursday evening, he is hit in the head by a bullet. As a result he is blinded, and he is told by a surgeon that the injury is irreversible; he is blind for life.
So far so orthodox, perhaps. But then something odd happens. Martin Blom discovers that his vision has returned. He can see. But there is one peculiarity about his power of sight. He can only see at night -- in the dark.
And we proceed from there, following Blom as he investigates this and that -- mostly a young woman who has disappeared.
When part two of the book begins, on page 261, the story continues in the first person. But we suddenly discover that we have a new narrator. And we come close to having an entirely separate novel, though we gradually discover that the characters and stories overlap. And part two tells us a very dark story indeed; powerful, though.
The dust jacket copy warns us that Rupert Thomson is one of the strangest voices in contemporary fiction. And they ain't kidding. This book is seriously weird. I mean like it is way the hell over there, man.
For a start, I wonder where we are located. The characters all have foreign names: Blom, Visser, Munck, and so forth: so we are hardly in England. And the city where much of the action takes place, where is that? It has numbered districts, a bit like Paris. The country is said to have a President, and it features mountains, but it is never identified for us. Perhaps it exists in a parallel universe, which is the true location of all fiction.
Overall, this book generates a curiously hypnotic grip on the reader. I was going to say that it is not the type of book that I would normally have much time for, because it is published by Bloomsbury, and with the exception of ole Harry their stuff is usually a bit highbrow for me. But when I come to think about it, I'm damned if I know what type of book this is. Is it literary, scifi, fantasy, pyschothriller, or what? Pass. But it held my attention throughout.
Thomson, it seems, has a new book just out: Divided Kingdoms. You can read an interview with him in the Independent online. He has also written books prior to The Insult. However, having read one I can't say that I am in any hurry to read another. I found his work to be curiously unsettling. It made me nervous.