Book review / A hoax in reel time

Amnesiascope by Steve Erickson, Quartet, pounds 9

Although Amnesiascope is Steve Erickson's fifth novel, it's his first with Quartet, which is also reissuing his 1985 debut, Days Between Stations. The new novel represents an exciting new development in an inspired series of fictions. Quartet is effectively relaunching the career of this most courageous and adventurous American novelist.

Amnesiascope is Erickson's funniest and most accessible novel to date. The narrator, S - not a million miles from the character of Erickson, the American writer who featured in the third novel, Arc d'X - is a film critic for an LA newspaper. As a joke he writes a piece about The Death of Marat, a long-unseen silent masterpiece by the legendary French auteur Adolphe Sarre. Sarre doesn't exist and neither does his film, but S assumes that either his editor or the fact-checkers will kill the story. They don't, of course, and soon people are talking about Marat as if it were a real film. But the people who only read reviews and never see the movies are only one of Erickson's satirical targets; his others include critics, publicists and himself.

When S overhears people discussing Marat, its specific lighting and camera angles, he knows it's gone beyond a joke, especially when they start criticising his review. The business with Marat is only one strand in a busy narrative, but fairly typical. Although set in a post-cataclysmic LA, Amnesiascope does not subscribe to any existing eschatological tradition. Its intentions and curiosities have little in common with the dystopian visions of science fiction. We learn about S's relationships with women and his friendships with men, his views on art, his thoughts on mortality and America. He agrees to help his girlfriend Viv make a pornographic film about an artist who paints nudes.

Running low on inspiration, S (one of whose jobs is to write the script) sits in a bar where he talks to a big, blonde woman called Jasper, who tells him about the time she and another woman made love to a bound, blindfolded man, thereby gifting S his story line. In the Ericksonian universe, there can be no surprise when, during casting sessions for the film, Jasper turns up to audition for the part of ... herself. Nor should we be surprised when Jasper relates a personal experience previously encountered in the pages of Arc d'X.

To read Amnesiascope - as with all of Erickson's work - is to be constantly astonished by his powers of invention, by an authorial imagination which plays with time and space and the conventions of fiction as if they were rubber toys. If you buy only one novel this autumn, make it this one. Amnesiascope is quite unforgettable.

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