Metronome by Oliver Langmead
|Formatt:||Paperback / Ebook|
|Release Date:||January 16, 2017|
Metronome is an engaging high concept fantasy, incredibly readable and beautifully written. Its unusual hero is William Manderlay, an old sailor who lives in a care home, crippled by arthritis and his memories of happier times. An erstwhile musician, he can no longer play the violin, but one night, while asleep, he discovers that his last composition, an album called ‘Solomon’s Eye’, is far more than a piece of music. It is a map.
So begins Manderlay’s adventure in dreaming. Langmead calls on the remarkably descriptive powers of writers such as Dunsany, Borges and Gaiman to create a fantastic landscape – the world we travel to when we sleep. There’s the city of Babel, a vast and poetic sprawl built from the dreams of plants and insects as well as humans. There’s Binary, the grey home of dreaming’s parliament, where commuters hurry to and from their drab workplaces. There’s Golden Gate, a towering recreation of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, where a craftsman can weave a violin string out of pure gold.
As Manderlay traverses this eclectic dreamscape, he meets all kinds of characters, from dreamers and figments to nightmares and their enemies – Sleepwalkers. There are twelve, each named after a month of the year. In waking, they’re people like you or I, but asleep they’re powerful dreamers with the ability to hunt and kill nightmares before they become strong enough to influence the waking world. It’s such a simple yet clever idea.
Manderlay’s main ally in the novel is March, a young soldier fairly new to the role of Sleepwalker and struggling with his own memories of war. Their quarry is June, a Sleepwalker obsessed with befriending nightmares. Using Manderlay’s musical map, which he unwittingly gave to her, June embarks on a journey to Solomon’s Eye, an island prison at the heart of a great storm. There she intends to free what March believes to be a nightmare king – a tangle of nightmares grown into one monstrous form. Langmead, however, keeps us guessing right up until the end: what really lies imprisoned in Solomon’s Eye? A nightmare, a fragment of God? You’ll have to read it to find out.
It looks as if someone has attempted to build a clock but did not know when to stop. It is a cataclysm of clockwork parts in synchronised motion arranged in the shape of a frigate… The whole thing just hangs there, impossibly, in the sky.
If you’re wondering what the title refers to, the beautiful cover art might give you a clue. The Metronome is a golden clockwork skyship, captained by the red-coated Reid, who wears a song across the skin of her face and who is indisputably mad. Langmead’s characters are as unique and colourful as his setting. Each has a backstory; Reid for example lost her old crew in a shipwreck off Solomon’s Eye. The main reason she agrees to fly March and Manderlay to the island is so she can rescue them.
Metronome is more than just a long fantastic dream. At the heart of Langmead’s book is a discussion of the nature of memory and its potential to be both strength and weakness. Heartbroken over the early death of his wife, tormented by his memories of her, Manderlay discovers that those same memories have the ability to save him – literally and figuratively.
With the characters of June and Thyme – a mysterious knight who calls himself the last liar – Langmead also touches upon the search for god. A weighty subject, perhaps, but the author handles it subtly, clothing it in the mystery it deserves. Langmead’s internal, chimeric landscape is uniquely suited to discussing such things, which boil down to what it means to be human.
There are wonders yet hidden from mortal dreamers that might reveal more of that first dream, when God himself slept, and let His wildest thoughts come alive and shape the very foundations of dreaming.
Time is fluid in dreams and Manderlay finds himself growing younger the longer he remains there, striving not to wake before his quest is done. His greatest weapon is his own life experience, which culminates in a powerful narrative about age and the wisdom it confers. If all of this sounds like hard going, rest assured it isn’t. Metronome is a book that lends itself to being reviewed thematically; Langmead’s gift is weaving these discussions seamlessly into the wider story, so that the excitement of Manderlay’s adventures is never bogged down by philosophical reflection. Rather it’s bolstered by it and I finished reading with the sense of returning from a foreign country, a little wiser for experiencing a culture that isn’t my own.
I’ve barely touched the edges of this book. It’s so rich and varied that a short review can’t really encapsulate it. If you enjoy being challenged in your reading, love the bizarre and imaginative, then Metronome is the book for you. If you’re into titanic bloody battles and imperial politics, it probably isn’t. And for readers who might be inclined to complain that it was ‘all just a dream’: that, my friend, is the glorious point.