Be under no illusions, this is not an easy read. Lee makes no compromises; he stays true to himself, true to the reason behind the narrative. He sets the pace and expects the reader to keep up with him, to work with him.There is a story, a good one too and even though it is not a new concept the manner of its telling is. The story threads its way among a salvo of textural explosions that explore the theme of a world gone mad, a world given over to a exploitative, constant flood of words and images corrupting, perhaps manipulating audience minds - confusing them for sure. This is Nineteen Eighty Four on amphetamines. This is before Wild Bill Artuad makes the unlikely, and yet thoroughly plausible mutation into Nils Urstatt who follows on in book three, The Celibate Autopsy.
Chapter Zero starts the book and flows in like a film, a stream of consciousness that is interjected with jagged, savage images given form by the solid cut-up meets lucid prose. Metaphorically it is like being in a room where each wall has row upon row of television screens all showing the same film but at varying sequences and played at varying speeds. It gives the sense of being disjointed, of having a seizure, This combination of methods adds to the overall disenfranchised feeling the author wants to portray. It is a masterstroke. It reveals the affliction and the conclusion at the same time. It is very disconcerting. I once described Mister Kwo's style as being mercury flowing over tin. This is true but consider also having to spoon in drops of molten steel. The effect is oxidized cohesion.Chapter one begins as though it will be a linear interlude. This is a deception for soon we are descending into claustrophobic chaos, a harrowing other world , some horror realm where reality confronts itself, mirror facing, and doesn't really like the result. Words are the tools of fools who use them in arbitrary fashion, clumsy and disengaging. Manipulation and programming that leaves souls slack jawed and mystified, frozen in some awful stasis. It is a vivid description of a NU WORLD, one where meaning is meaningless, where sex, random violence, drigs (I love Lee's corruption of the word drugs) combine to invoke panic attacks, acts of cruelty and chaos. It is the ultimate conclusion. It is every Hippies nightmare made real. Think Gotham with the mother of all migraines or Dante's 'Inferno' in stark chromes, steel and glass.
Key to the story comes in Chapter Two: WBA is fokken with words the language is limited in its expression and has to use abstractions to name what it does not understand/ Sex too rears its baleful head revealing a twisted corruption of equally corporate concerns and natural desie. Sex is the source and sauce that flavours this tale.Lee's vocabulary is confounding electric. He effectively brings into sharp conflict two co-opposites. Their clash highlights, brings into hyper real, sharp focus both narrative and concept. He takes the buzz words of modernity and rams them into the anal cavity of remote, desensitized humanity. The range of imagination is vast. The depth of detail, of the cities and the places, the people and situations is rich, complex and colossal.
Categorizing this novel is delightfully difficult. Commercial fiction tends to concern itself with the story neglecting that Holy Chalice of characterisation that Literary Fiction demands. If that is the case, and who am I to disagree, then this falls into the former genre. The depths of characterisation, certainly that of central protagonist WB Artuad/ Nils Urstatt, is remarkable. So are the shapes, individuality, especially the flawed idiosyncrasies of U Mertz (some traits borrowed from the author surely?) Queen Jane, Dadamax (oh yeah?), Jeanne. This book is literary. Lee dangles the carrot of narrative for the reader to feed on as he concentrates on fulfilling the promise of his 21st century prose poetry but without compromising either story or the point of this work.The illustrations are part and parcel of the narrative. They too are dense, seemingly impenetrable, confusing at first but once you have viewed them, taken in the details which offer fools illusions of hidden faces and other monstrous things, remain in the memory - solid as silver, sticky as treacle.
So why hasn't this challenging book, this parody of modern life, this acid attack on society and commerce, not flown from the shelves in droves? Sadly, I doubt if this book, this trilogy of books, will ever find commercial success at least not in my lifetime. One of it's problems and the only criticism I have is its length. 649 pages is a massive pill to swallow. Two books of 325 (yes I can count) would have been better. Perhaps a future generation may well discover copies on some antique book sellers stall and, out of idle curiosity purchase a copy, read it, and then be amazed by it for it is an amazing body of work.