Thursday, 5 February 2015

Loving Imogen by Mari Biella

Review by Bill Kirton

Mari Biella is a truly gifted writer who pays close attention to both the choice and the placement of her words. It’s difficult to be specific about some of the effects achieved in Loving Imogen because, from the earliest pages, there’s a tension in the narrative as the attitude of the central character, Daniel,  to Imogen develops and evolves. It would be very easy to say something that might prove to be a spoiler, so I’ll stick with generalities.

First, it’s a compelling read. Its characters are very real and sketched with great skill and economy. The subtle shifts and changes in Daniel’s perceptions of himself and other people, especially Imogen, are tracked to create a tense dynamic that drives the narrative along a path which could fork at any point to lead to very different destinations. Thanks to Biella’s sensitivity to psychological shifts and her understanding of how our fears and desires affect our actions, we share Daniel’s hopes and apprehensions. He’s portrayed as a kind, gentle man, sensitive enough to know that, as Biella puts it, ‘reality … is not the same as the truth’.

His life is relatively simple and ordinary, but he recognises that we’re all ‘fleeting bundles of flesh and blood and bone, held together by desire’ and he has intimations of time passing to create ‘the other, slower death of paid work and isolation and too little time, […] compromise after compromise, until you woke up one morning and found that you’d bargained the better part of your life away’.

This is not showy, florid writing but it has real power. Its evocation of relationships, surfaces and depths is managed with the lightest of touches and a true feeling for language. The story is a novella but, at its end, I found myself wanting it to be extended to full novel length to take us on the next phase of Daniel’s journey and see how he deals with the conflicting impulses that events have provoked in him.

To complete the collection, there are three short stories with very different subjects but each is crafted with the same care and skill.