There are a number of narrative voices at work in Scar, the recent novel by Canada-based writer Ryan Frawley (published by 529 Publishing). The body of the novel is comprised of the disparate writings of a man named Dermot: a fictional character who suffers from schizophrenia. Dermot’s doctor also chimes in, in the form of an introductory note and many footnotes and annotations throughout the book. It’s an intriguing concept, and one that is exploited to the full in the detailed narrative of Scar.
As he tells his story Dermot frequently wanders into digression. Sometimes he will write as himself, and sometimes he will slip into the third person. Occasionally handwritten notes will appear ghosted over the book’s text, as though he has paged through making annotations and corrections as he went along. It’s a wild ride, but broadly speaking the thread of the story is easy enough to follow: in the midst of a breakdown, Dermot has returned home to Ireland to bury his father. Scar charts his slow divergence from sanity with precision and sympathy.
Frawley (for it is important to remember that he, not Dermot, is the author of this book) crafts the voice of each narrator well enough that there is very little confusion, and the balance between the two is well executed throughout. Even the multiple narrative voices adopted by Dermot are distinct enough to not seem jarring (the division is helped along by varying fonts and backgrounds). At times the doctor is perhaps a little intrusive, jumping in eagerly with a footnote to explain a budding mystery to the reader before it has a chance to intrigue. He is, for example, quick to explain away the ghostly text snippets in the following fashion:
“…it seems to me that this over-writing occurs more frequently at moments of greater psychological stress, and so perhaps Dermot is attempting to convey something of his disordered thoughts through this literary device.”
And thus the mystery is brought to a swift conclusion. Never fear though, it’s rarely an intolerable number of pages before another interesting phenomenon will crop up. With all this going on between its covers, Scar is a restless and eventful reading experience. All through the novel you never quite know where it’s going, or what’s coming next. It’s destabilising, vibrant, and many-layered. Strains of Irish mythology, psychoanalysis and a sympathetic and immensely close portrait of schizophrenia all somehow gel together with very little friction, to create a compelling and complex puzzle of a book. Indeed I’ve never felt quite so uncertain while reading a novel: what is fact and what is fiction? Is Dermot really crazy, or is it the doctor himself who is unhinged? What can be made of the tantalising hints of a hidden code and the breaking of ciphers?
To find out you’ll have to get yourself a copy of Scar. The book is published by 529 publishing and is available on Amazon.
Christopher Frost is a writer from the North of England.