It’s a thriller, but also a comedy (so, a comedy-thriller then), but it sort of has a poetic majesty about it (right, it’s a comedy-thriller with overtones of literary fiction).
So the easiest thing is to just tell you a bit about it.
Meet Wala Kitu, a mathematics professor at Brown University and the owner of a one-legged dog called Trigo, Kitu’s particular field of research is Nothing. Yup, the Professor has devoted his academic career to Nothing, that is Nothing as a concept, which as we discover, is completely different to the number zero, or a vacuum (which is something).
This was first published in 1974, so I’m getting to it a tad late. I wasn’t sure what to read next, so for me, that’s a good time to dip into the SF Masterworks collection.
Now if you’ve read anything about Inverted World then you’ll be expecting something exceptionally mind-blowing. I’m not sure if I’d go as far as that, but it certainly qualifies as mind-bending.
The story is set on a planet that might be Earth … or might not and follows the life of Helward Mann, a denizen of a city that, for the past few hundred years, has been dragged around across the continent on rails in order to stay ahead of some unknown catastrophe. Helman works his way through a youth opportunity programme that will eventually see him graduate as a member of the Guild of Surveyors which is tasked with mapping the land ahead so that the Guild of Navigators, Bridge-builders, and the Traction Guild can work together to keep the city (inconveniently called Earth) moving.
I think this one definitely falls under the “rare treat” category: elegantly written in a light, poetic style that isn’t too overbearing, painstakingly researched, and carrying a sense of suspense throughout the piece that’s cleverly sustained even during the quieter moments. It’s one of those rare literary novels you’ll blast through in a couple of days, but even so, the author manages to whisk us around a good number of the social, environmental and race issues affecting the Caribbean.
And on top of this, we have the sudden appearance of an ancient mermaid who brings beauty and her curse to Black Conch.
The characters are well-drawn and believable, even the mermaid, who has to deal with the practical aspects of suddenly finding herself trapped in land (rediscovering her legs for a start). What I liked about the book is that it’s a classic journey piece: everyone starts somewhere, everyone has to grow, and everyone discovers a truth – whether they want to or not.
The only real problem I had was that the story ended rather abruptly, with one or two threads left dangling. I get that the outcomes had been explained along the way through songs, poetry and journal entries, but I still felt that the book sort of just stopped.
But since a good book is more than just the end, I can’t say it ruined my enjoyment – and this is one hell of a good book.