Book review: A sinister splash in the waters of oblivion
All Quiet on the Orient Express by Magnus Mills Flamingo, pounds 9.99, 211pp
Saturday 18 September 1999
We don't know much about the first-person narrator, other than that he's an unmonied drifter with a much-prized "pre-unit" motorcycle, who worked for a few months in a factory down south that re-conditioned oil drums. Not fussy about his comforts, he's an ideal candidate for the "businessmen" who live locally with a finger in every pie, who want chores done, and scams seen to, without too much nosing around and with as little money as possible changing hands.
Yet all the time we're only getting half the picture. There seems to be a mysterious process - almost occult -going on beyond the narrator's ken. Everything is slightly out of kilter. Everyone he talks to behaves inconsistently. People, in short, act like they're from another planet. We readers meekly acquiesce to this skewed place called the countryside because we have no other choice. We assume there is a reason for everything, even though it may not be immeditely apparent (and may, indeed, never be apparent). Is this the twisted faith of a sociopath - the narrator - or is this really what things are like in those empty spaces beyond the boundaries of the city?
The narrator finds himself painting first gates, then a flotilla of pleasure boats by the lakeside, then sawing logs, then taking on an early-morning milk round after the milkman sinks to the bottom of the lake when assisting in the placement of a concrete mooring anchor. (No further action is taken about his death; there are no policemen, doctors or vicars in this pre- societal world.)
He does find himself being "accepted" in a limited, paralysing way by the locals - though the more he knows about individuals and how all their lives fit together, the more peculiar everything really seems. This Lake District idyll seems like one of the circles of hell where lost souls are doomed to repeat themselves in the thrall of ineffable and malignant forces.
I was not wholly convinced by the success of his much-praised debut The Restraint of Beasts, but there is now no doubt in my mind that Magnus Mills is here to stay, and is a very good writer indeed. All Quiet on the Orient Express is minimalist, spare and full of suggestion. The novel's tone is still bouncing round my head days after first experiencing its world: a demonic dystopia in the heart of Bragg country.
BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital moveTV
FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets
Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Kim Jong-un shows off airport designed by architect he likely had executed
- 2 Michael Douglas regrets 'embarrassing' Catherine Zeta-Jones with oral sex comments
- 3 Tunisia hotel attack: Locals form 'human shield' to protect hotel from gunman Seifeddine Rezgui
- 4 Tunisian builder has been hailed a hero after knocking gunman to the ground with roof tiles
- 5 German ethics council calls for incest between siblings to be legalised by Government
Orange Is The New Black season 3 episode 1, review: The Ross and Rachel-ness of Piper and Alex is starting to grate
Glastonbury 2015: Lionel Richie attracts festival's biggest crowds for Sunday's 'dad slot'
The picture of a man crowd surfing in a wheelchair at Glastonbury is brilliant, but it wasn't taken at Glastonbury
Fifty Shades of Grey author E.L James's Twitter Q&A didn't go exactly as planned
Guillaume Tell, Royal Opera House, review: Gang rape and stripping naked of female actor met with boos
The moment a Queen's Guard soldier lost it and drew his gun at annoying tourist
Greece crisis: The wider lesson is that it’s time to abandon this failed experiment in currencies
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
Extend Right To Buy to tenants of private landlords, Labour's Jeremy Corbyn says
David Cameron struck double blow in his hopes to win Britain a new EU deal
Pentagon accuses Russia of 'playing with fire' over nuclear threats towards Nato