Monday, December 15, 2014
Eric McCormack is a writer of exceptional range and talent. You approach his writing innocently enough, getting absorbed in an intriguing story, until you come to an edge in the story. Peel back the edge to reveal another layer, and another, until you finally come to realize that it's layers all the way down.
Cloud is Eric McCormack's most recent novel, and his first book in a decade. Despite the gap, it has been well worth the wait. The book begins with its protagonist, Harry Steene, finding an improbable book about an improbable event in an improbably named bookstore, while attending an unmemorable conference in Mexico. The discovery of the book, and its link to a remote town in Scotland in which Steene lived briefly but loved memorably, is the impetus for a much broader search for understanding and quest for meaning.
What follows is a book that is as broadly sweeping as it is acutely personal. The story roams around the globe, from the slums of Glasgow to the mines of South America to the remote islands of the Pacific, with frequent stops in McCormack's beloved and only vaguely fictional Camberloo. While the book covers a vast geography, though, it rarely strays from the essential questions of purpose, identity, love and relationships.
McCormack's protagonist is intriguing, in that we come to know him more through how he is seen and reacted to by others. His identity is defined—and shaped—by those he meets and their view of his talents, abilities, loyalties, ethics and romantic potential. He is less an actor than he is acted upon, although this makes him no less intriguing as we witness the opportunities that are presented and the choices that are thrust upon him by others. Every situation that we see him in, every person he meets and every interaction he has provides a little reflection of the man we are following. Bit by bit we piece the fragments together until larger features emerge, even while the whole picture remains maddeningly elusive.
I thoroughly enjoyed Cloud from the outset. It is first and foremost a well-crafted story, one that weaves multiple threads of plot and character development into a rich tapestry. McCormack's characters are well developed, intriguing and wonderfully nuanced. If that were all, it would be a good book, and still well worth reading. What I delighted in, however, was the shear complexity, intricacy and texture with which McCormack has sculpted his book. Recurring concepts, motifs and images intertwine in a tale of stunning complexity. As the book unfolds, events, characters, ideas and concepts both build on and reinforce what has come previously.
I found Cloud to be a delight from the outset, and was altogether saddened when it ended. McCormack is a delightful author. His attention to plot, gift for the absurd and delight in the macabre remind me of Neil Gaiman. The depth and complexity of his characters and exploration of the depths of human nature recalls the delightful storytelling of Gabriel García Márquez. And his ability to challenge convention, contemplate the fantastical and question meaning bring to mind the works of José Saramago. Of course, you could also just really enjoy the book as the work of Eric McCormack. And hope we don't have to wait ten years for the next one.
Mark Mullaly is an avid reader, sometimes writer, enthusiastic motorcyclist and lover of wine (and endeavours to engage in only one of these pursuits at any given time).