Satirical and surreal, The Rhymer is going to perplex an awful lot of people. It IS a story, one with a definite beginning, middle and end, but it’s a story artfully told in a tumbling, tangled stream of consciousness which bamboozles and bewilders with its dazzling feats of editor-defying stunt-writing so that the reader spends most of the book spellbound but baffled while author Douglas Thompson shoots the arrow of his narrative to skewer the vulnerable soft tissues of the human psyche, exactly as he intended all along.
And if that last sentence gave you a headache, then you’ll be needing strong drugs to get all the way through The Rhymer with your higher cognitive functions intact.
Oh, and of course it rhymes. Although it’s not poetry. As such. But it is lyrical. And poetic.
We awake with the protagonist, Nadith, a ramshackle amnesiac whose first act is to hoist a dead deer onto his back, lug it into town and leave it bleeding on the war memorial. Nadith is the ultimate idiot savant: he knows almost nothing about almost everything but thanks to a bizarre device implanted into his body and intimately integrated into his brain he can see read past events from inanimate objects.
So begins his journey through a metaphysical landscape in a world which closely resembles our own, following in the footsteps of his famous brother, the artist Zenir, through the fantastical districts of Suburbia, Oceania, Industria, Sylvia and Urbis itself. Nadith is tactless to the extent of being insulting: wilfully aimless and easily distracted by the ephemeral beauty of a cloud in the sky, of rain on green leaves – yet he’s also devilishly quick with a subtle snipe intended to deflate the prodigious self-importance of the chattering classes he encounters.
So while The Rhymer contains myriad moments of well-crafted word-wrangling – the like of which most writers couldn’t hope to accomplish if they digested a thesaurus before breakfast – it’s not a pompous publication. There are plenty of laughs crammed in between its stylish covers.
There are also some segments which I found it harder to engage with, where the sheer torrent of talent drowned out the narrative. I was aware of how clever everything was, but felt as if I’d been excluded from the in-crowd and was laughing a little nervously, perched at its edges. You do need to be in the right kind of mood to enjoy and engage with The Rhymer: it took me about three weeks to finish, when a typical page-turner lasts me less than an afternoon. Digesting it in chunks worked best for me – and some of the writing is so bewitching that I’d read a section several times over, never quite fully reaching the nub of the matter but enjoying the sensation of being swirled along by the author’s imagery.
Even now, having left The Rhymer to settle a while after finishing it, I’m not entirely sure what I think about it. Admire it? Immensely. Enjoyed reading it? Enormously. Like it?
I’ll get back to you on that.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
The Rhymer: an Heredyssey by Douglas Thompson is available as a paperback and ebook