Thursday, 19 August 2010
Ian McDonald, The Dervish House (2010)
Finishing McDonald's new novel was a mixed experience for me. On the one hand I read it with a bicameral delight (it's not a spoiler to say that, at the heart of this dense, rich, honeyed wonder of a novel is a sfnal thesis about the altered-consciousness and religious potential of a nano-technological reversal of the evolutionary breakdown of human bicameralism)* ... the delight of a reader, immersed in a beautifully handled piece of storytelling, solid, believable, engaging character-delineation and a stunning evocation of a near-future Istanbul; and at the same time, the delight of a writer, repeatedly astonished and amazed at myriad turns of technical brilliance by McDonald. There's a particular sort of pleasure to be derived, as a writer, from reading another writer who's just really really good at what he does: a 'oh that's good, how has he done that?' sort of pleasure.
But there's the other hand. The other hand was less than delighted. I'll be candid about this: for this was the part of me that went 'well, what chance do any of us have of winning the Clarke next year if we have to go up against a book of this calibre?' Ach well: I'll be content with another year of Clarkey always-the-bridesmaidishness if The Dervish House wins, as surely it will. I can quell my inner Salieri in the face of this Mozartian performance. And you? Well you must buy a copy and read it. Really you must. This is a major novel by a major contemporary novelist who is, as the reviewish cliche has it, at the height of his powers.**
* It's not a spoiler in part because I'll be surprised if anybody who hasn't read the novel has a clue what that sentence even means.
** Those of you who think that a review ought to contain a precis of the premise and story, thumbnail sketches of the main characters, analysis of strengths and weaknesses of the style and so on will doubtless find this review jejune. I wouldn't argue. But, you know: just read this one.