“I worried I would have to inform them that I was, as if following a painful and statutory program, quietly losing my mind, and that it was all going to be a wonderful, brilliant party.”
So says the narrator of Ray Succre’s first novel Tatterdemalion. And indeed, it would appear that the protagonist is slowly going more than a little insane: a dragon has taken up residence inside his oven (ostensibly to coach him in the art of poetry); he suffers from crippling bouts of stating the obvious, and his frequent visits to the employment office are tinged with the terrible fear that he might secretly be a racist.
Tatterdemalion is the story of his quest for a mysterious jar and, also, gainful employment. The story takes place in an odd, off-the-wall world, alternately comic, menacing and surreal. Here the narrator’s imagination and the quirkiness of the real world meet in spectacular fashion.
At first, the boundaries of fantasy and reality seem clearly drawn; the dragon that haunts his oven is fantasy, the employment office real–but as the story progresses this reality is undermined on all fronts. A dream-like strangeness creeps in, destabilising the world to the point where even the reader is genuinely unsure whether or not any given happenings are real, or part of the narrator’s imagination. This places you squarely in the same boat as the protagonist, searching for meaning and safety in an insane world.
As the quest for the mysterious jar continues, events become gradually more and more extreme, but the climax delivers brilliantly on what has gone before. Ray Succre writes vividly and in a tone perfectly in keeping with the wildness of the narrative.