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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

Mapping The Margins Of Consciousness

The Storyteller - Kate Armstrong

A young woman is released from hospital after suffering an episode of mental illness. She becomes involved in a series of emotionally inarticulate relationships and is befriended by an older woman, also with a history of mental illness, and it is this older woman who relates the protagonist’s story.

 

It should be clear from this summary that The Storyteller is not a plot-driven book. Rather, it is an attempt to express the intense, disassociated and sometimes kaleidoscopic thoughts of an individual trying to re-make herself  after the fabric of her personality has been shattered.

 

What makes this book stand out is the quality of the prose, which is compelling, often disturbingly so, as the author seeks to map out the margins of consciousness. Here, for example, is the protagonist sitting on the top deck of a bus:

 

“The glass of the window by your face thins and then dissolves. The woman, the cars, the litter, the patches in the pavement merge into one and instantly you are above it all. You see that the town is the wormy flesh of a brain. The traffic and its lights are the electric pulses, the transmitters that absorb and release charge, that create the regulation on which the world depends.”

 

Kate Armstrong’s ability to range from tiny and absorbing details to great sweeping patterns of significance as her central character struggles to assemble meaning out of the welter of sense-impressions that constitutes the everyday world recalls the writing of Virginia Woolf.

 

This is one of those novels that reminds you of the fragility of our humanity and of its preciousness.