Bookshelf · 08/04/2016

Infinite Ground

Our bookshelf is a space where the editors (and, perhaps, guests) can share what we’re reading and thinking about without the formality of a longer review or the focus on recent books, or even sticking to fiction as we usually do.

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I had a chance to read Martin MacInnes’ debut novel Infinite Ground recently, newly published by Atlantic Books, which caught my eye because a number of people whose taste I generally trust have been praising it on Twitter. And it’s a very good book, striking many of my favorite notes: an eerie mystery, the actual solving of which isn’t quite the main propellent as it would be in a mystery novel; the strangeness and disembodiment of modern office work; an excursion into a wild, overgrown jungle; and a sense of “planetary fiction” (per JM Ledgard) developed through the involvement of microbes and bacteria. Stylistically it reminded me a fair bit of Hugo Wilcken’s novels The Colony and The Reflection (in fact, I first heard of both Wilcken and MacInnes via John Self), and also of Rupert Thomson’s Katherine Carlyle though perhaps that one mostly because I’d just read it a week or two earlier.

Infinite Ground also does something I’ve been drawn to more and more in fiction, as a reader and writer, which is deploying narrative in a way that provides real momentum but also acknowledges all the other possible stories not getting told. That’s crucial to Ledgard’s planetary fiction, as I understand it (and his Submergence astounded me in that way — microbial lives as important if not more important to the novel than human lives!) In MacInnes’ novel, without spoiling anything, my favorite instance of this came when a chapter offered a numbered list of things that might be what happened, some heartbreaking and others hilarious, some plausible and others absurd, but all of them enriching the novel I was reading by acknowledging the unexplored margins. The presence of microscopic lives did that, too, as a detective and a forensic expert work to identify all the other things living on the body and keyboard and office of a missing man, a man who appeared to be isolated in urban life but in fact played host to a whole world of companions. That idea of unnoticed connections and dependencies is a thread gracefully woven throughout Infinite Ground, as grief and loss and absence and, yes, microbiology, and it’s something I very much admired and enjoyed as I read.

It’s a novel I very much recommend, and this recent conversation with Eileen Myles, Martin MacInnes and Idra Novey on the Guardian Books Podcast will let you know more about it.

And as for Wilcken’s Colony, I thought it had gone out of print, and bios of the author tend to not mention it for some reason. But it seems to be more readily available now (perhaps because of his recently published third novel, The Reflection) so I suggest you get on that — here’s John Self’s review if you need convincing.

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Steve Himmer is the editor of Necessary Fiction.