by Tricia Sullivan
Science Fiction | Fantasy | 266 Pages | Published by Gollancz in 2016
This book was received from Netgalley in return for an honest review
As soon as I finished Occupy Me, the latest novel from sci-fi author Tricia Sullivan, I knew that I would have a hard time writing a review for it. At its best, Occupy Me is a beautiful, twisted and chaotic novel which sings with wonderful prose and an obvious depth of skill and imagination. At its worse, however, it is confusing, utterly strange and left me at times thinking ‘what was the point?’
Written in a distinctive voice, with a healthy dose of imagination, Sullivan’s talents as a writer are undeniable. However, this is a book which I can only imagine will be loved or loathed in equal measure by those who embark on unravelling those mysteries which are held between its pages. I’m afraid that after a promising start, by it’s conclusion, my feelings fell more in line with the latter.
A woman with wings that exist in another dimension. A man trapped in his own body by a killer. A briefcase that is a door to hell. A conspiracy that reaches beyond our world. Breathtaking SF from a Clarke Award-winning author.
Tricia Sullivan has written an extraordinary, genre defining novel that begins with the mystery of a woman who barely knows herself and ends with a discovery that transcends space and time. On the way we follow our heroine as she attempts to track down a killer in the body of another man, and the man who has been taken over, his will trapped inside the mind of the being that has taken him over.
And at the centre of it all a briefcase that contains countless possible realities.
Tricia Sullivan returns to the genre with a book that will define the conversation within the genre and will show what it is capable of for years to come. This is the best book yet from a writer of exceedingly rare talent who is much loved in the genre world.
Sullivan paints a strange picture of a world where angels nudge humanity in a favourable direction and which is coloured by both the innocence and the disenchantment of the protagonists. These protagonists – one angel: Pearl; and one doctor: Kisi Sorle – spin the narrative into something akin to a chase across the globe, where aims are not always clear and the hunter and the hunted are often interchangeable. This is a novel where, should it be undertaken, the utmost attention should be paid to the very least of strings lest the reader get mired in the cacophony of madcap themes and schemes which undoubtedly unfold the moment one’s attention drops.
Occupy Me, however, benefits from an assortment of strange, repulsive and somewhat amusing characters who, whilst providing a diverse cast, failed to make me truly care for any by its conclusion. Unfortunately, with little connection to the majority of the cast, it became increasingly difficult to care about their place in the narrative even when I understood what was going on at all. But whilst these may not have been characters I ‘liked’, they were all rather interesting, if not entirely bizarre, and often became the driving force behind the plot, heaping moments of excitement and utter confusion on the reader in equal measure.
And not least Pearl. An angel whose memories of her past are lost and whose present and future are uncertain, Pearl is an oddity in this world and beyond. Her interactions are strange and amusing, her view of the world is both innocent and all too knowing, and her life is entwined with mystery and a sense of the unknown. Her attachment to ‘the briefcase’ and her failed attempts at its retrieval are, when not entirely confusing, some of the most nonsensical, absurd and enjoyable moments in the novel, and her almost alien composition keep the level of intrigue and mystery at a peak throughout.
Dr. Kisi Sorle on the other hand is a good man who, in a strange case of possession and an unusual attachment to a certain briefcase, finds himself complicit in murder, crime and other nefarious acts. In his – or rather the other his’ – attempt at causing instrumental global change, the world as we know it is broken apart in a torrent of chaos, flashes of bright light and the apparition of prehistoric monsters at inconvenient moments. The strange which surrounds Dr. Sorle is entirely more my cup of tea and his chapters, whilst equal in absurdity, were entirely more comprehensible and provided welcome intervals throughout the novel.
However, it would be an unfair review to say there were no parts of this novel which I enjoyed from start to finish, including an interesting play in perspective writing which made for one of the highlights of the novel. These sections, written in second person perspective (an idea which would usually give me nightmares), were some of the most enjoyable chapters and their increase in frequency would have been of benefit throughout. Similarly, Sullivan’s prose is relatively distinctive and is one of the few novels I’ve felt compelled to read in an American voice. Her passages are often marked by interesting, amusing description and surprising observations, and Sullivan’s obvious love for the strange is something which I would be eager to read in her future work.
Despite these aspects of the narrative which I enjoyed all the way through, a lack of clarity and a firm sense of confusion seemed to grip me by its end. The strange questions raised throughout the novel failed to yield the answers I was so desperate to find out; the science came with little explanation and even less sense; and the characters shifted from being interesting if a little strange to being almost unbearably confusing. This novel, which began with an intriguing and incredibly readable opening chapter, started to weigh heavily over its course and became something of a chore to read by its conclusion. Occupy me is, altogether, a book which has left me in more than one state of confusion.
Whilst Occupy Me may not have been the read I had hoped it would be, and whilst it may not have been the best introduction to Tricia Sullivan, there were still positives and enjoyable moments to pull from its pages. I may have felt a little too much relief as I drew to its conclusion but, you never know, it may just take you by surprise. Be open to the strange and the strange may just open up to you… just take care that the strange in question isn’t a briefcase.