The Beauty of Psyche by Andrew Staniland
This is an unusual and unique work of fiction. It’s certainly not going to suit everyone and I don’t for a minute think I’ll be able to do justice of it in a review. But I do think it’s an important work, and an important work of contemporary art. It’s a modern prose poem but such a description does little to indicate its true depth. Staniland is in control of his medium throughout and challenges the reader to go along with him. The overt stance of the author is refreshing. He points out fairly early on ‘I am free to write whatever I imagine’ and reading The Beauty of Psyche is like being allowed to connect in a deeply personal way with another persons imagination. I both respected that and enjoyed the experience. He sets up his stall early by pointing out that he’s painting with his imagination but the whole impact of that statement takes the entire work to fully comprehend.
He is a poet, I can spot that straight away – I think only poets have the commitment to and command of language in its pure form. In its entirey The Beauty of Psyche is beautiful; throughout the work he draws pictures with words. You roll the paragraphs round in your mouth like fine wine. You drink in the words with your eyes. It begs to be read out loud. The sum of a prose poem seems here to be so much more than the combination of the parts. It’s a fusion of art forms. A juxtaposition of writer, artist, actors, mythmakers and theatre. A collision of creative worlds all imagined by the writer. And I relished it.
Reading this I felt the excitement and pleasure of those long Romantic poems by Keats, Shelley and Byron or even Pope and Milton but it’s not ‘like’ any of them. It is not a modern version of a classic, it is a modern classic. I felt like I’d spent an afternoon on the sofa with Shelley himself.
But he deals with contemporary issues as well. There’s descriptions of the publishing industry, and the expressed belief that good literature engages with your imagination. The ever present author explains that ‘I paint clothes on the human characters. But gods are gods. I dramatise their divinity.’ The compelling analogies between painting, writing and theatre were an absolute revelation to me. Staniland paints with the imagination. Deliberately. And explains his process to you, drawing you into a consideration of the creative process in all its dimensions. I have never read anything like this in my life – and it really excites me. His comment on art is Any work of art aspires to an absolute realism. To be its own reality. It is fatuous to reduce this work of art to a subject of debate, but one feels that one is studying literature rather than just reading it.
He turns his consideration to how we ‘spend our lives’. It’s very deep. It’s something for people who like to STUDY literature. It’s not a ‘page turner’ in the conventional way. It’s something you want to savour, to think about and to ponder at every turn. He sets up a dynamic model of narrative which then presents an ending which is dynamic rather than dramatic. A blank ending. Playing with form. Showing us that Our lives are also outside us. It is all our own work.
It’s working on several different levels, and then some. The interrelatedness of the creative processes employed – from the mythic ‘tale’ to the ‘authorial’ role to the contemporary reportage of the ‘actors’ perspective, give a depth and uniqueness to this incredible creative statement.
It’s as far removed from genre fiction as it is possible to get. It’s a genuine literary work of art. A true contemporary classic. It’s beautiful, it’s intelligent and I don’t imagine I’ll ever read anything like it again.
I loved it. It’s hard not to put a personal slant on it because it engages you in such an intimately person way. I don’t know who else this will appeal to – it has the poetic charisma of making me feel he is speaking only to me. Of course it’s an acquired taste. It’s intellectual marmite, or truffles. If you’ve ever been moved by long Romantic poetry, if you’ve ever been captivated by classical theatre, if myths and classical forms and imaginative beauty attract you, I urge you to read this.