The Wanderer is the debut novel by Timothy Jarvis. I read it a couple of months ago and the book’s blend of Shielian ‘last man’ fantasy and time-twisted, oneiric horror has stayed with me ever since the last page. This review is a much-expanded version of a short post I felt I had to put on Facebook shortly after reaching the end of this brilliant, brilliant book.
Jarvis himself has described The Wanderer‘s charms as ‘Highlander meets Arthur Machen’s The Three Impostors, meets M.P. Shiel’s The Purple Cloud. With booze.’ Even if somewhat tongue-in-cheek, with a write-up like that, how could one resist? And there is booze. That part of his mini-write-up isn’t tongue-in-cheek at all.
Let me start by saying that I can’t recommend this book enough to anyone with even a passing interest in weird fiction and fantastical literature of the last 120 years or so. The Wanderer is simply superb: a highly original, deeply unsettling and utterly gripping novel, the imagery of which will, I’m sure, clutch at your innards for some time to come. It’s in part a portmanteau piece, with different character-led narratives that are interconnected in quite a fiendish way – and there is indeed a fiend at the heart of this novel, as grim and cruel and relentless as the psychopathic Mr. Punch himself. Jarvis describes himself as a writer of antic fiction, which is borne out here in large measure. But the nature of this beast is not just antic, but corybantic also – it’s supremely literate, but also frenzied and shocking and rending in equal proportion.
The novel’s dark premise is difficult to summarise without giving away important plot details, so I won’t do that here as it would spoil the flow of this unique book. The Wanderer is a complex, layered narrative with a central theme that becomes apparent only when the reader is quite far into the story, too far in to climb back out, perhaps: I will only say that once the novel’s revelations are laid bare, the earlier sections of the narrative take on an altogether more chilling aspect and the tension reaches a level of cloying tautness as the story hurtles towards its conclusion. Herein you’ll encounter a missing author of strange stories and his final manuscript, with the same title as this book, be it fiction or otherwise; immortality as the cruelest jest of all; a horrifying game of hunter and hunted across the millennia; a dying planet; an awkward camaraderie of characters that is shattered in chilling ways; and much more, all of which slots together ultimately like a complex puzzle. As Jarvis has noted, the novel has a flavour reminiscent of Shiel’s The Purple Cloud, a book I love for its grandiloquent strangeness and singularity, although I know it doesn’t find favour with everyone, but this novel goes beyond anything Shiel attempted.
The horror of The Wanderer is visceral in places, too – and I use that word both figuratively and literally so fevered is the author’s imagination – yet that only helps to cement the strangeness of the narrative as it jumps to the far-distant future and back with casual disdain for standard frames of temporal reference.
This is an intelligent, ludic work, beautifully articulate and poetic, with respectful yet impish reverence given to the best writers of strange stories over the last few decades. It’s also surprisingly and delightfully grim in all the right ways. I wouldn’t say it’s Aickmanesque per se but I got from it some of the grotesque otherness of Aickman’s finest, most genre-defying pieces.
The Wanderer has been my novel of the year so far, and there’s only a few weeks left of this one so I can’t see it being bettered; in fact, I haven’t read as cohesive and compelling a weird fiction novel in a very long time. The fact that it is a debut makes it all the more revelatory and I cannot recommend this book enough. Even with the teetering pile(s) of titles on my to read list, I sense that I’ll be revisiting this one very soon to see what I may have missed along the way the first time.
It should (in a perfect world!) be available from all good bookshops. The novel is published by Perfect Edge Books, and you’ll find their details and some information on how to buy The Wanderer here.