|Oct/Nov 2017 Reviews & Interviews|
All the Galaxies.
Allen & Unwin. 2017. 308 pp.
ISBN 978 1 76063 057 7.
The blurb on the back of this book is deceptive. It suggests All the Galaxies combines elements of The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebald), The Book of Strange New Things (Michael Faber) and work by Margaret Atwood. Certainly, there are parts that describe the experiences of a teenager in a strange sort of Heaven, parts that are pure fantasy and science fiction, and parts set in a dystopian future society. But Philip Miller's novel is completely his own invention, style, and format.
The problem for me, is I enjoyed the realistic parts of this book but could not become engaged with the galactic fantasies or the dystopian elements.
Philip Miller is Arts Correspondent for several Scottish newspapers, so he writes well about the newspaper world he knows, and he enjoys poking fun at it. One strand of his story follows John Fallon, a journalist on a Glasgow newspaper being taken over and which will soon become an internet-only production. His interactions with his work colleagues, also his friends, are realistic, funny, ironic, and abrasive. His relationship with his young son is close but often difficult, and now his son has gone missing, does not answer his phone, and Fallon is anxious about him.
Another strand follows Fallon's son, Rowland, whose age seems to vary between being a young child and being a teenager. For much of the time, he is floating around the galaxy accompanied by his pet dog.
A third strand follows a group of men trying to take control of Glasgow after a second failed Scottish independence referendum has thrown Scotland into a state of social disintegration, turmoil, horror, and anarchy.
And yet another strand deals with a man who has developed stigmata—the wounds of Christ—and is being tracked down by a young, ambitious female journalist.
There are links between all these strands, but each of them could be a story on its own. And there are huge differences between the style of each strand. The chapters dealing with the newspaper offices, with their rough alcohol-fueled characters, are gritty and realistic. Those describing the fey, fantastic flights of Tarka (the name Roland adopts) and his dog, Kim, and describing the beauties of space, are sometimes lyrical. But this is a galaxy that holds strange plants, animals, Singing Mothers, some many-eyed, glistening, winged "dragon-tiger-orchid" creatures, and other purely science-fiction/fantasy inventions.
The "political" chapters, full of power-struggles, negotiations, and violent deaths, never gripped me, and I ended up skipping through them. The stigmatic, John-Jo, is a deranged religious fanatic who seems to have hallucinatory and/or supernatural powers. And the few chapters following Fallon's estranged wife, Pat, and her female friend, Nicky, seem superfluous.
Added to all this, there are random pages of mad, apocalyptic text printed in small type-face capitals saying quasi-religious and generally unintelligible things like "MY SKRYER IS A BROKEN BOTTLE. AND MY CHART IS THE MAP OF MY BODY," or "GUIDE US O LORD IN THE TIME OF OUR DEMISE. CHILDREN FLOATING DEAD IN THE DEAD SEA."
All in all, I found All the Galaxies too fragmented to be a satisfying read.