What the Critics Thought of It:
“Wood’s fiction is playfully experimental, but never loses sight of its primary purpose: to entertain.”
“Wood is the real deal … An author of great depth and resource who is clearly giving his all in the service of that most taxing of artistic endeavours: the writing of a fine novel.”
Benjamin Wood is a Creative Writing lecturer at the University of London, and his second novel, The Ecliptic, is an exploration of creativity. The book is set in the 1960’s, and the majority of the first half takes part in a deserted island near Instanbul. The narrator Elspeth Conroy has fled London to work on her great masterpiece. When we first meet her, she has been a resident of the island’s refugee camp for artists for a long time.
Suddenly, there is a disruption to the inhabitants of the island – a new arrival is introduced to the residents of artists and authors. Fullerton, a mysterious young man (who literally interrupts Elspeth’s creative flow by sleep-walking into her art-shed one night) is here to stay, and as soon as he comes, things start to become strange. One thing I loved about the first part was getting to know the details of the friendships that had been established on the island, as it takes a lot of imagination to map out the lives of characters who have all happened across it, and their relations with one another also. My favourite characters in this part are Elspeth and Quickman, an aloof writer. Benjamin Wood also has a very lyrical prose, and with the elements of the mystery and the sheer depth of his characters, I would liken reading this to reading a male version of Donna Tartt (which his first book, The Bellwether Revivals definitely reminded me of too).
But to anybody who has found the setting-up of place and character in the first half a little slow, definitely pursue because the second part, ‘Rooms from Memory’ really delves into the history of Elspeth, which I found fantastic and authentic. Elspeth’s mind is very likeable and unassuming place to be, particularly when she’s wryly picking up on the pretences of the 1960’s art-scene. The plot follows her as she is discovered by the art-world and leaves her financially-poor but happy life with her friend Jim, a disorganised artist. She is put into ordeals that most young female readers will understand and relate to, and the way Wood describes her descent from this creative original talent to questioning herself will resonate with any young writer or artist. There are many questions surrounding the originality of the creative idea and that impossible task of catching it before it runs out.
Its components of the thriller and mystery genre are truly gripping and suspenseful too, so definitely pick up this book to see why Fullerton has arrived in Portmantle!
Our verdict: 5 out of 5 cups of tea!