Ink by Hal Duncan

The Book Of All Hours: 2.
MacMillan, 2007

Disclaimer: Hal Duncan is another of my SF contacts. Since he is a long standing member of the Glasgow SF writers’ group, with which my own group has many links, I have known him for a long time. If you ever encounter him at a Science Fiction convention you won’t have a dull time.

Ink contains Volumes 3 and 4 of The Book Of All Hours, the first two volumes of which were published as Vellum The Book Of All Hours: 1 in 2005.

The background conceit of both books is that the universe is akin to a piece of wrinkled parchment (Vellum) extended to infinity, with lives and histories experienced within the parchment’s folds. Like in parallel universes, history in the folds is different one to the next.

Both Vellum and Ink are presented as series of interleaved narratives, some in different typefaces, which at first apparently bear little relation to each other.

Duncan’s invented Book of all Hours within the book – written in blood on the skin of angels, no less – “has as many histories as the world itself …. fused as one confused and rambling tale, a sort of truth but full of inconsistencies and digressions, spurious interpolations and interpretations,” which is about as good a description of Ink (and Vellum) as any I could conjure. As you might expect then, Ink is full of characters historical, biblical, Shakespearian and mythic, as well as fictional.

At the end of each chapter Duncan inserts a coda labelled Errata where the underlying themes are teased out and underlined.

In Volume 3 the prose in one of the narratives is rhythmic, almost Shakespearian in its metricality, with rhymes to heighten the effect, though it is laid out in the normal (non-poetic) manner. In an afterword Duncan reveals this narrative to be a reworking of Euripides’s The Bacchae. (His epilogue is based on Virgil.)

In one small section Duncan enumerates the inhumanities man perpetrated on man, woman and child during the (real) twentieth century, a year on year account of unremitting strife and conflict. Who now remembers the Armenians? is a telling tagline.

Yet Duncan, despite living there, seems to relish laying fictional waste to the city of Glasgow. Sorry, as this a different fold, make that Kentigern.

As a medium, ink is of course liable to be erased and the underlying vellum written on again, made into a palimpsest. This novel, Ink, is concerned with the efforts of various characters to get hold of the Book of all Hours and amend or destroy it so that history can unfold differently.

Replete with allusion, alliteration, assonance, outright rhymes, repetition, puns on names (Guy Fox,) deliberately altered spellings (eg photogram, an ancient city called Themes, endless variations on the name Thomas) and not afraid to display its historical and classical knowledge, Ink is dense, layered and complex; a tour-de-force. This is not a book with which to while away the easy hours.

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