It’s a familiar, yet uncanny feeling we all know; like waking up in a hotel you’re sure you’ve never stayed in before, and yet, there is something recognisable and common to its aesthetic—the slight metallic sensation to the touch of the sheets; the tilt of the crimson bed side lamp. Not quite a streamlined déjà vu, but a sense of having lived with something here and now before—you open a curtain and remember what it is: the humming ramps and reams of your ever processing, always the same, always different, human brain—resisting the logos at every turn, like it always does; indeed, like it must.
Such is the experience of reading Andrew Hodgson’s novel Mnemic Symbols. We already know the voice, because we live with it—or something very similar—everyday. That thumping, sometimes nagging, sometimes epiphanic, voice of consciousness; the ongoing boxing match between the Dionysian wreck head and the Apollonian nerd forever at round three. Do not get too excited when you see a truth or walk over a sentence that feels like god, however, since it will just as quickly diminish into a dog, or some clothes, or another commonplace item symbolic of, well, the commonplace. Welcome to life:
“Watch the dark outside unmove, cobble something together. Memory is a fickle thing. As I sit to write this, in my lodgings, later, it provides the very process by which I might infer, to you, that you and I are the same. I remember a job to follow to forget. Clothes I must recall to wear, before exiting to day. Keys to an apartment door, a window, up there, twelve up second left into which I might here insert my figure. A past tense in I that would force you to comprehend that this is all there, or rather here, on your plane.”
The novel does an excellent job at bringing us into a surrealism that feels so realistic, it might be, as it were, a mirror onto our own consciousness. There is an audacity—a kind of confessional exposition—to the style, that provides the reader with a sense, willingly or not, of voyeurism. Occasionally, the quirks and blips of the psyche-tracking sentences—having no internal filter, and being so constant—feel almost too private, like stumbling across a nude figure in an apartment window accidentally—or, more accurately, like being in the head of the nude figure, and not easily being able to get out. Take the paragraph above for example, the flamboyant, ‘Clothes I must recall to wear, before exiting to day’—feels so naked as to be without conceit; accidental—an essence of the Id, somehow, manifest erroneously in public view, for all to enjoy.
And, yes, it is enjoyable. All of it—it turns out beings thrust into the chambers of another’s most bizarre, unhelpful, ecstatic, bored, stupid, brilliant, arrogant, dumbfounded, quotidian and painful memories and introspections is a genuine pleasure. The pleasure gained is a result of the balance so well evoked by the author, between objects we know, and introspective, uncanny feelings, which should seem particular to the individual, and, yet, don’t.
It’s not only the city scape that gets the psycho-narrative treatment, however. The rabbit hole goes a lot deeper, and therein lies the power and eventual message of the novel. And, yes, despite its aforementioned, postmodern aversion to anything the brain might want to cling to (like, I don’t know, one of those dumb, old fashioned truths), the book does seem to say something. There’s an arc, a meaning; there’s substance; and this is where this book is really brave.
Because of its uncanny representation of a real consciousness, this means that the tragic moments are incredibly intense; unbound and explicit. Since this is an interior narrative—the whole novel is, in a sense, an introspection—there is no room for social custom. Thus, everything felt by the protagonist, is palpable and raw: direct from the maniac that is the Id. There is nothing said or enacted—internally—that is not reflexive. Everything is an impulse, which creates a gorgeously untampered poignancy to the memories involving family, particularly in the speaker’s account of his father:
“And he’d said, Dad’d said, my dad’d said, it was something in the blood, in the body. Had gone wrong. And I wondered now, now that he’d died at same abrupt age near abouts if it wasn’t that this all cycled through, up and down this line full of breaks with modicum of continuity. Where I understood it wasn’t something wrong out there in the alleys of this village on sea, or back in town, or back there in the past, but if it wasn’t something gone wrong inside, that will always go wrong, by providence. A gone wrong to wait for, each time. Every. To replicate, mutate and forever repeat.”
This provides a direct entry point into the raw thoughts and feelings of Andrew without censorship; rather than becoming obscure and difficult to relate to, even the bizarre associations that are made through traumatic memory, become a source of beauty, more accurately, perhaps, human beauty. The book, then, succeeds in exposing some of the more poetic, yet surreal, human thought patterns and ways of dealing with death and mourning. The text seems to suggest, through its naturally occurring complexities and almost perfect modelling of quotidian consciousness, that it is in our inherent nature to ascribe mundane contemplations to trauma, that makes us truly who we are: individuals. This is a fundamental, remarkably demonstrated lesson this novel teaches us: that it is in our deeply obscure, deeply subjective reformation of phenomena, that makes our lives unmistakably ours. But it is in our subjective relations that we experience, despite everything, catharsis; empathy; even ‘truth’. For that lesson alone, Mnemic Symbols is an education worth the enrollment.
Words by Chris Viner.
Click here to read an extract from Mnemic Symbols.
Mnemic Symbols, Andrew Hodgson, Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2019, £4.00. For information, and to buy, visit Dostoyevsky Wannabe.
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