Book Review

Three Dreams in the Key of G by Marc Nash

three split narratives, one of which confused me...

Right, before we get underway here, I’m going to have to address the elephant in the room or, rather, the Marc Nash who regularly pops up in the comments on this blog. Yes, it is the same Marc Nash as the author of this book, but given that Nash has been engaging with for literally years, to trip into fawning, nepotistic1, uncharacteristic, unblinkered praise of his novel would be failing to give the writer what he would – or should – expect.

Like people who sit in the front row of comedy gigs (#guilty), like children who stand out for any reason but continue to try and have friends at school (#guilty), like anyone who’s ever stayed in a relationship with someone they didn’t like (#guilty), sometimes publishers and authors (or the people who do PR for the higher-end UK indie publishers) WANT Scott Manley Hadley (#guilty) to give his weird, kinda bitter, kinda affection opinions on a book. What masochists.


Dead Ink is a Liverpool based publisher (part of the Northern Fiction Alliance) and their previous output includes the acclaimed anthology Know Your Place, Gary Budden’s debut collection Hollow Shores, as well as Harry Gallon’s first two novels (click here to see my review of his debut, The Shapes of Dogs Eyes, for Open Pen) and the absolutely astounding Sealed by Naomi Booth, which has been my go-to fiction recommendation since I read it.

DIGRESSION: Sealed is a post apocalyptic novel about a disease which causes a sufferer’s skin to seal over their bodily orifices – think Cormac McCarthy’s The Road but with more dread and less violence; think The Rover, think Children of Men, think of a *perfect* popular novel – both plot-driven and characterful, its omission from the Man Booker list a travesty. However, the fact that it made this year’s shortlist of the Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize (last year won by Winnie M Lee’s Dark Chapter) is some consolation for Dead Ink. That accolade, however, is both diminished and expanded by the presence of a SECOND Dead Ink book on the same award shortlist: this one. Yes, that’s right: fan of Marc Nash has been shortlisted for the Not the Booker Prize for his complex, experimental, novel, Three Dreams In The Key of G.

Nash’s latest is a multi-part text that includes three narrators, one of whom is a young mother in a loyalist household in Ulster at the turn of the millennium. The second narrator is an old woman facing off, online, against the amassed forces of the United States’ various law enforcement agencies. She is typing within a Floridian refuge for victims of male abuse (both women and gay men) where they are attempting to edit the human genome to forever destroy the male gender. The third strand – and the one that, for me, kept me from falling in “book love” with Three Dreams in the Key of G – is a discursive and digressive monologue that supposedly comes from the psyche of the human genome itself. As the book went on and these sections reappeared, I kept hoping for a connection to the other threads that was as thematically and emotionally powerful as the links between the young and the old women. And I didn’t find it.

All three sections of the novel are written with a wider vocabulary than my own, and this is something that generally turns me off a novel. I have two English degrees (#catchphrase) and read (on average) two books a week, so when a word I don’t know occurs in a novel that isn’t technical jargon (which is allowed) or its meaning isn’t obvious from the context, I’m secure in stating that it’s the writer either intentionally showing off or accidentally forgetting his readers. And, yes, it is usually his: women who know big words don’t tend to have the insecurities that plague excessively polysyllabic men. But, with Nash’s novel, I got over my linguistic disapproval: even though these characters speak with language that (a few too many times) prevents understanding on a sentence level (I’m not using a dictionary when reading English-language fiction, I’m almost 30 years old), Nash successfully evokes two complex characters, both of whom are in vastly different locations and linked, purely, by a shared history of poor relationships. Both are mothers, both identify as British2 (even though one was born on Ireland), and both speak with a similarly intellectual, though unrehearsed, voice.

The themes of these two narrators connect: the violence and incompetence of men, the unfairness of conservative ideals of motherhood, the value of private thought and learning… They gel together, as separate narratives, in a coherent and interesting way, drawing attention to different parts of the other. The third part, however, often felt to me like little more than intellectual filler, and maybe it was the language and the sentence structure and the deliberate and never-unmasked lack of humanity to the voice, but I failed to slip into a satisfying engagement with the voice, with its opinions and interpretations. And I think this was the problem: the voice spoke opinions and interpretations rather than feelings and emotions, and I can’t go for that (no can do).

I was expecting, or hoping, that the three threads would neatly tie together by the novel’s end, each revealed to be the same woman at different stages of her life, perhaps, or – preferably – something more unexpected than that. Although the disconnect between the sections in Ulster and Florida always remains (geographically), the two narratives humanely and engagingly explore similar ideas. The talking genome thread, though, with a bolshy, lecturer, tone of condescension, never clicked with me – right until the end I was hoping for a reveal that would emotionally justify its inclusion, but for me this didn’t happen. It was disappointing for me, because I felt that two thirds of this novel were great, and able to incorporate an exploration of humanity into the kind of clever-person-writing that usually makes me roll my eyes and write another poo poem.

I thoroughly enjoyed two thirds of Three Dream in the Key of G, and maybe a more intelligent reader (or a reader less interested in emotionality) might get more out of the genome sections than I did. However, for me this was a novel that spent a full third of itself doing all the things I don’t like a novel to do.

Still, the two thirds I liked were good.

Buy Three Dreams In The Key Of G direct from Dead Ink here.

Here’s a limerick about poo:

There once was a big lump of poo
That was as sticky as PVA glue
I couldn’t get it to flush
So I started to cuss
Tell me, plumbers, oh, hey, what should I do?

1. Maybe the wrong word, there. The “literary lifestyle blogger” is always the nephew to the authorial uncle.

2. is not a partisan blog: Ireland for the Irish, Las Malvinas for the Argentinians, free Catalunya, free Scotland, free the Basque Country, let London secede, free the Kurds, recognise Palestine, recognise Taiwan etc etc etc.. Always on the side of the underdog, except when the underdog is the unfashionable side to be on, i.e. ISIS and the UK in Brexit negotiations. I type that flippantly, but I’m such a fucking snobbish liberal intellectual that I have basically revealed my genuine opinion there. 


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