Tollesbury Time Forever by Stuart Ayris

Let me take you down, cause we’re going to…

This is a truly challenging and unique book. From the very opening it grips you with the promise of something strange and compelling. The writing is on the wall. Literally. This is going to be a treat of meaning and metaphysics and madness.  The blurring of the lines between fiction and reality achieved through the narrator is a very skilful way to engage the reader with versions of reality and pre-conceptions of ‘madness.’  There is more than one journey undertaken here – the central character, the author/narrator and the reader are all taken on a whirlwind ride into the deepest recesses of what we believe to be ‘real.’

Particularly clever is the way song tunes are segued seamlessly into the narrative. It keeps you actively engaged as well as reminding that the central character (like many of us?) is a man whose life has been given meaning by its soundtrack. And it offers a darker side, reminding us of the people who claim all kinds of dark arts stem from the lyrics (backwards or forwards or sped up or slowed down) of various popular bands – foremost of course The Beatles.  You expect that something nasty might happen to Paul McCartney at any minute. But this is also delivered with humour: Something went wrong for all the Beatles except Paul. Paul just got on with it as if it was just about music. There’s also an excellent recipe for boiled rabbit.

On one level this is a Pilgrim’s Progress for our time. A sort of Everyman journey into the modern self. The travel back to the earlier time and a different world both physically and mentally is expertly set up and the ‘breakdown’ works on a number of levels. You see as much as your eyes are open to see.

It’s a strange world the world of the mind and the author takes the reader into the journey of a character’s mind – but I am called to question whose mind?  Reading it, I feel like I’m in someone else’s mind. Or more than one mind.

Just when you are truly unsettled and don’t know what to make of things, the focus shifts to the psychiatric ward and the nature of parallel realities is further explored and to some degree explained.

The author deals with a lot of very interesting metaphysical questions – in bite sized and narrative form, but they keep you thinking long after the novel is finished. The doctrine of FRUGAL is central amongst these.  Seldom does a novel create its own cult, but ‘frugaling’ is quite a potent contender for a new way of living.  Other issues addressed include the exploration that imagination is life, that time is an imposition on the ‘moment’ and that money is not just the root of all evil, it is the evil we all face.

Part 1 of this extraordinary novel explores mental ‘illness’ and Part 2 explores the mental health system.  Here we are on more familiar but no less uncomfortable ground.  As a psychiatric nurse you can trust the writers experience (which certainly accords with my own experiences of the mental health system as a creative arts tutor)  And he doesn’t hold back.  He points out the biggest irony (and iniquity) of our mental health system which is that

Insight is gained when a patient does what the mental health system tells him to do without question.

One is barely recovered from the enormity of this statement when one is hit with the alternative view of the central character (and possibly the author/narrator – and certainly this reviewer) ‘My life is not about what you call me, it is about how my heart beats.’

‘The world does not change. All that alters is the way we choose to see it.’  I applaud the bravery and creativity of the man who wrote this wonderful and important fiction, based on a deeper reality, which does so much to set records straight about dismissing psychosis as ‘mental illness.’ As the author enters the story and indeed has framed the narrative throughout one feels that one has been privileged to gain insight into a different way of seeing the world. While the ending confounds expectation, it nevertheless draws a firm conclusion and offers a redemption of sorts for us all.

Throughout Tollesbury Time Forever Ayris is concerned to show that knowledge has little to no value if it doesn’t change your life. Reading this book will change your life.  Buy it. Change your perception on life and in the process change your life.

Reviewed by Cally Phillips

Tollesbury Time is available in Kindle format

Find out more about Stuart Ayris

Stuart Ayris will be featured at the First Edinburgh Ebook festival in @theFestival (Aug 27)