So I’ve just finished reading Beyond Redemption, by fellow Canadian Michael R. Fletcher, and let me tell you: it’s fantastic. It is also, in all probability, unlike any book you’ve ever read. In the acknowledgements Fletcher quotes his agent as calling the novel viscerally disgusting and its characters repulsive.
True and true.
I described it to friends as follows: “It’s like reading ‘Game of Thrones’ except every character is Walder Frey.” Which is to say they are morally repellent assholes, every one. And yet, somehow, it works. I found myself, improbably, rooting for the bad guys–in part because everyone is a bad guy.
The book is set in a world defined by the delusions of its inhabitants. Sociopaths, kleptomaniacs, schizophrenics–the gang’s all here! It makes for a truly unique setting, and each character’s disorder (or, in some cases, disorders) manifests itself in a fascinating variety of creative ways. The cotardist assassins, for example, believe themselves rotting and dead, and so they are–and let me tell you, the only thing worse than being hunted by an assassin is being hunted by a relentless, unkillable, zombified assassin. What emerges from all this is a cast of diverse, peculiar, and distinctive characters that, despite their many failings, still manage to endear themselves to you.
Well, some of them. The obese slaver who eats ‘people stew’ and turns everyone he meets into a cannibalistic sex-slave is hard to find anything but reprehensible. Or maybe I’m just jealous? Moving on…
These brief glimpses into the characters’ less-ignoble selves are revealed in some beautifully composed snippets such as this:
“Wichtig is not my friend. The only person Wichtig likes is Wichtig.”
“Wrong,” said Morgen with absolute certainty. “He is the only person he hates.”
“Ooooooooh, SNAP!” is what I shouted upon reading this line, because it illuminates a heretofore unknown aspect of a character who has convinced both his friends and the reader of his utter self-certainty. With scenes like this, Fletcher plumbs the depths of characters who seem, on the surface, irredeemable, and shows the reader, fleetingly, what makes them the broken, complex, all-too-real people they are.
Beyond Redemption is a remarkable achievement. Its greatest triumph, I think, is that it remains true to itself. There is a satisfying, but far from happy, ending. The characters don’t ‘see the error of their ways’ or ‘turn over a new leaf’. In fact, they chop down the tree and burn it to ash. And I loved every page of it.
To summarize: the writing is stellar, the world is gritty and well-realized while remaining largely mysterious, and the characters are both flawed and formidable. If you feel like reading something truly different than the genre’s usual fare, then I wholeheartedly recommend you pick up Beyond Redemption.
Thanks for reading,