This is a profoundly disturbing read. And it should be. It’s also a rare example of being able to ‘get something for nothing’ in that it’s available free. But it’s strong fare. And depending upon how you read it, it’s a tale of despair of youth, a challenge to your most deeply held beliefs, or just an unutterably depressing vision of the world. It reads like the diary of a ‘madman’ and could just as easily be interpreted as an attempt to show a person experiencing psychosis as it could be a youthful diatribe on a sick society.
It is fairly obviously the work of a young man. One might dismiss it as a derivative combination of the Marquis de Sade meets Fight Club meets Gogol or Camus with a bit of Brett Eastern Ellis thrown in. And indeed the author describes himself on his blog (where you can read more short work by him) as an existentialist, cynic, stoic, nihilist and writer. All these aspects come through. To that extent one might not see it as original other than in that for each young person coming to terms with the ‘sickness’ of society, their journey is original to them. But it is more than this. It’s the ‘writer’ that I’m interested in.
The plot is not just setting out to shock, though it goes through the somewhat predictable and graphic descriptions of antisocial behaviour. The first pause for thought comes during a gang rape scene. After which murder isn’t quite as hard to stomach for the protagonist. But reading the novel too literally doesn’t do it full justice. Of course it is a fantasy, a sick fantasy at times but where exactly does the fantasy lie? For me, reading it as a constructed fantasy where the author has created a psychotic character, reveals a lot more than if one simply dismisses it as an angry young man’s rant against society. You could just cast this aside as the narcissism of youth, but look deeper and you see something more of the despair which I fear is more prevalent amongst young people in our society than we’d care to admit. The point is made after a particular orgy of destruction that ‘What we have created is nothing more than an accident’ which shows the in built dilemma of the nihilist’s attempt to use destruction as a creative act. The Catch 22 position of nihilism and existentialism are clearly shown.
Of course there is raging against the machine, ‘The counter culture has been perverted. Counter-culture and the culture it was opposed to now make love to each other.’
He shows us clearly how we are all victims of society. But there’s scope for more reflection. The interesting ersatz epigraphs which frame Parts One and Two are significant. I was intrigued by the ‘epileptic fit’ reference. It might have been nothing more than a witty bon motte, but equally you can read the entire work that follows as the ‘possibility’ of a fantasy carried out by someone during an epileptic fit or, more worryingly, a psychotic episode.
Reality is re-created throughout and this reading became more plausible when one moves to Part Two and discovers the protagonist in hospital then inexplicably removing himself from this scene in an attempt to negate the impact of time itself. He becomes a leader of something he doesn’t even believe in himself. He writes his own ‘manifesto’ and he creates his own society, with followers, but in the end he cannot bear this any more than the society he is alienated from. His numbness is only relieved by pain and he again ends up in hospital.
So my question is; is this fundamentally a story of anger, deviancy or ‘madness’? I think it can be all three pulled together. If the author was unaware of the closeness of his description to that of the psychiatric condition then he has certainly shown how far the core of such ‘madness’ lies in an isolation from and despair of modern society which is enough to make any reader sit up and pay attention. And if he deliberately plotted all this with that in mind, I applaud him. In the end I’m not sure it matters. What we feel is the pain. Whether it is strictly the pain of the character or one shared by the author is not for me to judge. The result is a work which is only for the strong of stomach, for those who want to understand ‘illness’ and ‘madness’ in all its depth. I’m happy to say that despite all the horrors of this work, there is an antidote. The work of Stuart Ayris shows a ‘way beyond’ the horrors that are exposed in Matthew and the Derelict. Whether this is because of the difference in age or experience of the authors is debatable, but in the same way as I’d suggest anyone reading Ayris might look at Wood, I’d suggest that Wood (and his readers) also read Ayris.
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