October 25, 2013
James Brogden seems like a writer who's done a fair amount of observing in his time. He has a gift for taking the drab wallpaper that hangs on the periphery of everyday life and turning it into something mindbending. His debut novel, The Narrows, was a phenomenal horror-fantasy that built itself around the geography of Birmingham and - speaking as someone who was born and raised there - I can think of few things that sound as tedious.
However, not only did it draw me in to its incredible story but also ensured I'll never walk down an alleyway in town again without making certain it's not going to lead me down a ley line into a nightmare parallel universe. His second book, Tourmaline, builds on this theme of other worlds existing beyond the familiar one (not to be confused with the "real" one) but here the link lies in dreams and Brogden offers some weird and terrifyingly plausible explanations for the mysteries of the human mind....
We're introduced to the main characters with a pair of striking opening scenes: a beautiful young woman walks into a Birmingham art gallery, puts her hand to a Victorian painting of Eve and watches as the paint starts to move beneath her touch. A man wakes alone on a raft in the middle of an ocean filled with bits of random junk, floating towards oblivion, unable to remember who he is.
How these two stories entwine is a joy to read; there's an urgency to Brogden's prose that keeps the action fast and thrilling, without sacrificing either thematic depth or his knack for an evocatively British atmosphere ("Seagulls wheeled like windborne litter in a sky the colour of lead"). He sculpts the magical aspects of the book so subtly that you'll find yourself wondering if there was ever a time when words like "dreamwrack" and "worldpool" weren't part of your natural vocabulary. As we come to understand the meaning of the Tourmaline Archipelago - the story's surreal setting - and how it weaves into reality as we know it, the journey is unpredictable, exciting and ultimately very moving.