Some Reviews of ‘The Wanderer’

by Timothy J Jarvis

Here are a selection of the reviews that have appeared online for The Wanderer. I’m extremely grateful to everyone who’s written something about it for their insightful comments and critiques.

From Justin Steele, Arkham Digest:

The Wanderer is one of the best books of 2014, hands down. Weird fiction is dominated by short stories and novellas, and it’s rare that a novel length piece of work comes along that is as engaging throughout as this book.

Jarvis explores many ideas over the course of his novel: what happens when man crosses borders into strange places he is not meant to be, what is it like to be hunted and live in fear, how does immortality over the ages affect a person? The novel is filled with scenes of terror, scenes of awe, and a glimpse into an ordinary man’s millenia-spanning world.

I say this is my favorite novel of 2014, and it’s a statement I stand by. Jarvis has chops, and The Wanderer is an epic sized tale of weirdness and horror that no one should miss. It’s terrifying, mind-bending, beautiful and unforgettable.

From Mark Valentine, Wormwoodiana:

A lost writer, an old manuscript (partly in unknown tongues), a sinister puppet show, a timeslip into the far future, and a bitter understanding of what lies behind the façade of the world.

It’s a brave writer who could take those ancient rituals of the dark fantastic and make them work in a fervid new form. But that is the achievement of The Wanderer by Timothy J Jarvis, an astonishing debut novel deeply infused with the traditions of supernatural and metaphysical fiction.

It has been devised with a subtle understanding of the motifs and mechanics of the strange and visionary in literature. The skilful use of stories within stories suggests Arthur Machen’s The Three Impostors, while the scenes of a ruined city after a catastrophe, brings to mind images from M.P. Shiel’s The Purple Cloud, or Edward Shanks’ People of the Ruins. And there are also suggestions of a wider cosmic tragedy such as we encounter in Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land, and even of the serene realm of Shangri La in James Hilton’s Lost Horizon.

It is an unusual meditation on the nature of fantasy, that shunned half-brother of literature, which also astutely exemplifies the form: a book essentially about the mainsprings of the macabre that works itself as a significant new coiling of the dark. But it is far from an academic treatise. The book shifts between sordid pubs and smeared rooms, evoked with grimy authenticity, and weird horizons in worlds of dream or hallucination.

Most of all, though, The Wanderer is that rare thing, a thoroughly engrossing and exhilarating story, laced with playfulness, which also glimmers with intelligence and audacity. We should be wary, though. The book itself reveals a force seeking out certain artists, poets, and others, as prey it can pursue forever through the underworld – an infinitely dark and cruel game of the kind hinted at by Sarban in The Sound of His Horn, but vaster still in its remorselessness and terror. How do we know it isn’t one more lure in that labyrinth?

Don’t read this book unless you’re ready to defy the gates of Hell.

From Brian Lavelle, No Time Is Passing:

The Wanderer is the debut novel by Timothy Jarvis. I read it a couple of months ago and the book’s blend of Shielian ‘last man’ fantasy and time-twisted, oneiric horror has stayed with me ever since the last page. This review is a much-expanded version of a short post I felt I had to put on Facebook shortly after reaching the end of this brilliant, brilliant book.

Jarvis himself has described The Wanderer’s charms as ‘Highlander meets Arthur Machen’s The Three Impostors, meets M.P. Shiel’s The Purple Cloud. With booze.’ Even if somewhat tongue-in-cheek, with a write-up like that, how could one resist? And there is booze. That part of his mini-write-up isn’t tongue-in-cheek at all.

Let me start by saying that I can’t recommend this book enough to anyone with even a passing interest in weird fiction and fantastical literature of the last 120 years or so. The Wanderer is simply superb: a highly original, deeply unsettling and utterly gripping novel, the imagery of which will, I’m sure, clutch at your innards for some time to come. It’s in part a portmanteau piece, with different character-led narratives that are interconnected in quite a fiendish way – and there is indeed a fiend at the heart of this novel, as grim and cruel and relentless as the psychopathic Mr. Punch himself. Jarvis describes himself as a writer of antic fiction, which is borne out here in large measure. But the nature of this beast is not just antic, but corybantic also – it’s supremely literate, but also frenzied and shocking and rending in equal proportion.

The novel’s dark premise is difficult to summarise without giving away important plot details, so I won’t do that here as it would spoil the flow of this unique book. The Wanderer is a complex, layered narrative with a central theme that becomes apparent only when the reader is quite far into the story, too far in to climb back out, perhaps: I will only say that once the novel’s revelations are laid bare, the earlier sections of the narrative take on an altogether more chilling aspect and the tension reaches a level of cloying tautness as the story hurtles towards its conclusion. Herein you’ll encounter a missing author of strange stories and his final manuscript, with the same title as this book, be it fiction or otherwise; immortality as the cruelest jest of all; a horrifying game of hunter and hunted across the millennia; a dying planet; an awkward camaraderie of characters that is shattered in chilling ways; and much more, all of which slots together ultimately like a complex puzzle. As Jarvis has noted, the novel has a flavour reminiscent of Shiel’s The Purple Cloud, a book I love for its grandiloquent strangeness and singularity, although I know it doesn’t find favour with everyone, but this novel goes beyond anything Shiel attempted.

The horror of The Wanderer is visceral in places, too – and I use that word both figuratively and literally so fevered is the author’s imagination – yet that only helps to cement the strangeness of the narrative as it jumps to the far-distant future and back with casual disdain for standard frames of temporal reference.

This is an intelligent, ludic work, beautifully articulate and poetic, with respectful yet impish reverence given to the best writers of strange stories over the last few decades. It’s also surprisingly and delightfully grim in all the right ways.

The Wanderer has been my novel of the year so far, and there’s only a few weeks left of this one so I can’t see it being bettered; in fact, I haven’t read as cohesive and compelling a weird fiction novel in a very long time. The fact that it is a debut makes it all the more revelatory and I cannot recommend this book enough. Even with the teetering pile(s) of titles on my to read list, I sense that I’ll be revisiting this one very soon to see what I may have missed along the way the first time.

From Chris Whitehead, Taphonomy:

The Wanderer by Timothy J. Jarvis is a novel, or a found manuscript, or a dream. It tells of those who have seen through rifts in the thin veneer of our superficial world and entered into a deeper, unfathomably dark meta-reality. The story (or stories, as it contains many) spans vast swathes of time, and equally traverses the geography of our globe’s cities, shadows and far flung desolate spaces to tell its story of impending, unassailable terror.

The fact that the manifestations in The Wanderer are in the main very flesh and blood, solid, non-ephemeral, that they exist of matter and not some ectoplasmic, ghostly material is appalling. There is a lot of pain, viscera, fluid and bone to navigate, but all is set within tightly detailed and concrete evocations of real (at least to those of us who have never scraped the surface and seen the void) earthly places.

The work is complex, although by no means impenetrable. The writing is always interesting and has a whiff of Victoriana about it, although I can’t quite put a finger on why this is. I can tell within a couple of paragraphs whether a book will get its hooks into me, and this one bore sharp barbs. Maybe it was the spattering of arcane terms or the conceit (if indeed it was a conceit) of the manuscript being found in the room of an author who had vacated this world in such mysterious circumstances.

This is the kind of novel that demands to be read again, and surely new aspects will then surface to delight and disturb. Who knows where I’ll find myself re-reading this in the future though? In a cosy pub, on board a founded ship, at a Punch and Judy show, in Glasgow, London, or somewhere beneath them all?

From Seregil of Rhiminee, Risingshadow:

If you love good old-fashioned weird stories or if you’ve ever considered yourself to be a fan of weird fiction, you must read The Wanderer. This novel is essential reading material for fans of the weirder side of speculative fiction, because it’s an exceptionally good and well written novel.

A few excellent weird fiction short story collections have been published this year, but The Wanderer is without a doubt the best weird fiction debut novel of the year, so readers of weird fiction should put it immediately to their reading list. The Wanderer is an ambitious, gorgeously weird, beautifully written and stunningly original novel. In other words, it’s weird fiction as it should be. It’s a literary masterpiece that beckons readers to re-read it and enjoy its strange atmosphere time and time again.

The Wanderer is yet an undiscovered gem, but I’m sure that it will be found and loved by many readers. Highly recommended!

From David Longhorn, The Supernatural Tales Blog:

Imagine a novel that tries to define supernatural horror fiction while re-defining it for a modern sensibility. The nearest example I can think of is The Ceremonies by T.E.D. Klein, a book many considered a qualified failure. Well, a second contender has now emerged in the form of The Wanderer, a remarkable debut from a British author.

Thus we have a novel that manages to combine horror with science fiction, in that it attempts to offer a vision of the broad sweep of future history. Sadly, all the author can come up with is ‘we’ll have more of the same, then we’re buggered’ – admittedly a popular take on things, but I found it disappointing.

The book is also beset by info-dumping – the tendency to the throw in everything but the kitchen sink. Another difficulty is the author’s tendency to use ten words where one would suffice. I can see why he does it – Poe and Lovecraft, who are listed (with many others) as tutelary spirits of this book, were notably wordy. But Bierce and Maupassant, who are also name-checked, were admirably terse. I am, I admit, more of a taker-out than a putter-in when it comes to prose style. But the frequent overloading of the text is, for me, an impediment rather than a powerful effect.

In case I seem too harsh, I must round off by saying that The Wanderer is a remarkable achievement, albeit a flawed one. As one review (quoted in the book) succinctly remarks, reading it is a little like wandering through a library assembled by some insane devotee of fantastic atrocities and excesses.

These are all very thoughtful, and I’m very much in the reviewers’ debts. But my favourite review of all, so far, is this one star mauling from Amazon.com:

Beyond Weird
This is one of the most unforgettable books I’ve ever read. But for all the wrong reasons. I have never read depictions and descriptions of torture, maiming, slaughter, and brutality as are depicted here. The book is a series of horrible and even phantasmagorical experiences that 5 different people share with one another that the main narrator brings together just to share their weird experiences. The main narrator cannot die as is one or two of the others even tho they may be cut up or mangled in horrible ways. The very vocabulary is incredible: there were 200-300 words that were new to me, and were not even in the dictionary. He never uses a simple word when a totally exotic one will do. He is tormented by the “Punch and Judy’ show which is totally barbaric and involved in beyond satanic rituals, even in a deep underground cavern, from which he must flee to avoid being torn apart by the undead crowd there. In fact, he spends a lot of time fleeing from them as they follow him around. Unless you love slaughter, avoid this book.

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