Just a short post here.
This was what I needed.
If you read my last post, you’ll know that I haven’t been feeling too good, emotionally like. What I needed was a belter of a book, and thankfully I got one: Rita Indiana’s Tentacle, translated by Achy Obejas and published by And Other Stories.
Tentacle is a glorious, gorgeous, clever, human, fun, engaged and fucking engaging piece of speculative fiction that blends Yoruba religious beliefs with body-shifting and consciousness-sharing time travel. There are long-worshipped and life-changing sea anemones that possess far more power than one would ever suspect and there is also rich satire related to the art world. In addition to that, the novel is a pretty brutal attack on capitalist society more generally, as the novel’s time travel implies that the character who is sent back to prevent ecological disaster doesn’t bother to do so, because instead he can make mad bunse and meet his dream lover. It’s funny and fun but not at all stupid.
The novel (or novella, but who’s word-counting?) opens in a nearish mid-apocalyptic future in the Dominican Republic. The Caribbean has been destroyed by a (to begin with) unexplained ecological disaster, and Haiti (which shares the island of Hispaniola with the DR) has been quarantined due to the outbreak of a never-explained disease.
Society has, as fiction so often tells us that it must, become ever-more split along the lines of class: the rich are richer, and they now covet not only money and power but also the handful of once-commonplace sea creatures that managed to avoid decimation through their incarceration in aquariums and fish bowls. There are more servants, there are automatic security machines that gas potential burglars and disease carriers and there is a Catholic fundamentalist terrorist group committed to waging war against the Yoruba-trusting dictator who now rules the future country. Into this nicely Caribbean-dystopia enters Alcide, a transgender servant and former sex worker who dreams of stealing, saving, winning or scraping enough money to get hold of Rainbow Brite, a revolutionary new medicine that – with the right medical supervision – can transform a person’s body to a different sex.
Transformed, physically, into a man, Alcide begins communing with the magical sea anemone, and it takes her mind into a simultaneous second body in a different time. The same thing happens, by accident, to a much less likeable character in a different time again, and the narrative then bounces from now to the future to the early noughties to like the sixteenth century or something. The time travel is faultless, the sexuality and physicality is deeply human, and even the fake science is delivered with a curt bluntness that keeps a reader from focusing too much on it. It’s kinda like a very very very good episode of Black Mirror, but a novella and less depressing. It’s about the environment, it’s about trans identities, it’s about shifting cultural belief systems in the Caribbean, it’s about politics and capitalism and desire and money and the future.
Tentacle is a fucking amazing, wonderful, novel and you should read read read.
I gotta go, things to do!
NB – there was a mistranslation from the Spanish that described a character taking a hit of cocaine from the end of a key as a “line” instead of a “bump”. That’s the kinda mistake that woulda never got through one of those East London indie publishers, is it???
On November 14th 2018, I launched my first (and so far only) book, Bad Boy Poet, in the basement of Burley Fisher Books, Dalston. Here are some of the songs and poems I performed:
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