Monday, 14 December 2015

Review: The Reflection by Hugo Wilcken

The Reflection by Hugo WilckenThe Reflection (15 October 2015) by Hugo Wilcken

A terrific book - as readable and entertaining as it is intelligent, so basically exactly what I want in a piece of fiction. There's a scintillating film noir feel to everything that happens around our narrator, psychiatrist David Manne, in what is indubitably a very Paul Austeresque plot. The book opens with a few pages of pure dialogue, as Manne is informed his ex-wife, Broadway star Abby, has died. He's still preoccupied by this when he agrees to do a favour for a detective friend, and is drawn into a bizarre domestic scene in which - he believes - all is not as it seems; is the distraught woman in the next room really the patient's wife, or merely an actress hired to play the part? What of the man's insistence that his name is not Esterhazy, but Smith? Troubled by the incident, he decides to help the patient, a mistake that sends him plunging headlong into a deep - inescapable? - identity crisis and a conspiracy that may exist only in his mind. All of this takes place against the backdrop of 1940s New York, rendered as a maze-like, shifting contrivance - I couldn't help but see it in black and white (my imagined soundtrack to the book was Artie Shaw's 'Nightmare'), but Wilcken's Manhattan also reminded me of the Paris streets in that scene in Inception, bending and folding in on themselves.

The Reflection is cleverly written to ensure the reader is often just as discombobulated as the protagonist. The potentially off-putting opening, wherein there's an immediate challenge - to figure out who's speaking, why we should care and, in the absence of context, what any of it means - is just the first example. Memories and scenes recur in different situations and settings as Manne (if he is, in fact, Manne) loses his grip on reality - or is an increasingly hapless victim of some villainous scheme, depending on how you interpret the story's many twisty developments. His suspicions that people around him are actors turns out to be something of a motif; he continually describes his surroundings as false, comparing streets to movie sets, the things on them to 'stage trappings', and people he meets to 'actors from my past... continually coming back in different form'. Everything seems to overlap. Reading a book in which phrases and descriptions are repeated, often with very slight modifications, creates constant déjà vu. In this way, Wilcken employs language to create the same round-in-circles frustration Manne experiences. The reader leaps towards 'clues' just as Manne does, only to be thwarted again.

With its cinematic atmosphere and relentless intrigue, The Reflection is an incredibly enjoyable story - but it doesn't have to be just that; you can read it in many different ways. It's certainly a book that would bear, even benefit from, repeated reads. And of course, I now want to read everything else Wilcken's written.

Rating: 9/10 | Twitter | Goodreads | Tumblr | Bloglovin’ | Buy the book: Kindle & Hardback

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