The Blackbird Singularity by Matt Wilven
|The Blackbird Singularity by Matt Wilven|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: JY Saville|
|Summary: An amazing, beautiful, unsettling and slightly weird book about love, grief, and the continuation of life.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 288||Date: August 2016|
|Publisher: Legend Press|
|External links: Author's website|
Thirty-something writer Vince Watergate sees his partner's pregnancy as a fresh start. He stops taking his lithium and the new clarity of mind lets him start writing his best work in ages. He befriends a blackbird in the garden with the help of a bag of sultanas, and begins preparing the baby's room. For a short while, everything seems full of peace and hope. But Vince and Lyd's first child, despite having died a couple of years earlier, might not have completely left them and the blackbird might not be as friendly as Vince first thought. Lithium withdrawal, stress, and the pressure of appearing 'normal' push Vince into a frightening, irrational place. Can he fight his way through it and return to his family?
The Blackbird Singularity is Matt Wilven's first novel, and it was longlisted for The Guardian Not the Booker prize 2016. It is tense, gripping, moving and thought-provoking, and I found myself thinking about the book and looking forward to getting back to it while I was doing other things, which is always a good sign. It does get pretty dark and disturbing at times, but I also found myself almost in tears at the grief and depth of love, and there are moments of humour to lighten the way.
Vince is an engaging character, an intriguing first-person narrator to go along with. He makes conversational asides in parentheses and throws in seemingly irrelevant details which makes it all feel quite real. Of course, as he starts to lose his grip he becomes an unreliable narrator, which works well. Sometimes it's not clear whether we're getting Vince's twisted perception or witnessing a peculiar but real event (ghost or hallucination, for instance) and that uncertainty I think makes the reader appreciate some of Vince's confusion as he starts looking for signs and omens, pointers on his path to the right future. I dare say different readers will interpret some of the scenes in different ways, depending on their viewpoint.
The book does a good job of exploring the social construct of 'madness' – which is the more reasonable reaction to life-changing grief, the one that doesn't like to talk about it but functions day to day or the one that ends in a psychiatric institution? I like the way Wilven at times highlights socially acceptable 'odd' behaviour by giving us Vince's analysis of it, the oddness of other people and their interactions. For instance the irrationality of couples, or the way modern families ignore each other in favour of a smartphone, TV or computer screen, but that's all acceptable whereas Vince is under scrutiny for any lapse in 'normality' because he's been diagnosed with a mental illness. One of Vince's friends is reclusive and perfectly content with that, living life by his own rules, but no-one has stuck a label on him in the way that they have with Vince.
If you want a novel with similar themes of mental illness, family, and acceptable vs unacceptable oddities, but without the weirdly surreal aspect, you could try Halfway House by Katharine Noel.
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