Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Doctor Sleep by Martin Smartt Bell, from Penguin Books:
Adrian Strother isn’t a doctor, and he hasn’t slept for some time. Nor can he for the three days that make up this novel. The reader is deposited in media res into Adrian’s 1980s London world, which seems to have his American past catching up with him, and his inchoate future dwindling to the indivisible point which hath no points nor parts nor magnitude. He’s a talented hypnotist with aspirations to the divine magic of Marsilio Ficino and (more particularly) Giordano Bruno. For much of this book he struggles with whether and how to care about the people closest to him, while his professional engagements produce surprising results, and his carefully-constructed interior world reaches its full momentum.
Doctor Sleep isn’t a “thriller” as the HBJ jacket copy claims. It’s more of a “love story” after the fashion of the two M. John Harrison novels I recently read as Anima. It combines the modern hermeticism of John Crowley’s Aegypt books with the gonzo introspection of a Robert Irwin novel. Layer on the chatty readability and pell-mell plotting of an early Palahniuk book, and you’ll about have it. But enough of comparisons.
The fast-reading story darkens severely towards its dawn. I caution interested readers against any alleged plot summaries, because although the story itself is given in a perfectly sequential first-person narrative, it all hinges on circumstances that are revealed in an elliptical manner to give them their greatest effect. One of the chief topics of the novel (and the title of the second of its three days) is the art of memory, and what a haphazard glosser might see as background is just as likely to be payoff.
There is certainly a Faust tale here, and much that can be read as allegory. It was the first book of Bell’s I have read, but since he could deliver “more light” in this fashion, I won’t make it the last. [via]
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