Guerilla Books are renowned for their lovingly crafted limited edition books and for putting out fiction with a real punch; fiction with something to say. Here Phillip Clement reviews this years Ink, a debut novel from Jesuit-educated U.S. Architect Marc G Montry.
Ink follows Filemón, a young bottle seller from the Mexican town of Laredo, as he attempts to lead a moral – yet financially stable – life. Filemón is guided in this by a received wisdom passed down from his father:
One coin for the house: one coin for yourself.
He is assured that while he ‘cultivates’ the solidarity of family and customer in relation to himself, his fortune and standing in the town, and the world at large, will grow indefinitely. In adherence, he moves through the town and the novel as if searching for knowledge of his soul through his experiences:
Give something of value to the family or to the community or to the world and each of these shall in turn provide you with a living and a means.
Perhaps due to Montry’s desire to affect a meditative atmosphere throughout the novel, the narrative progresses slowly, but I found that the pace of progression was of less bother than might have been ordinarily. Montry’s prose is a delight to read and the longer sentence structure is more of an affectation brought about by the visually shorter lines, but, rather than annoy, this departure from convention concentrates the mind on the images he creates and lends a lyrical timelessness to the novel that often lulls the reader into periods of contemplation.
Juxtaposed against Filemón’s selfless search for financial and moral prosperity is the story of a mendicant priest, a member of an order of friars devoted to a respect for the ‘divine residing in another’. The priest is presented as a beggar affecting piety to gather funds to ensure the continued development of his flower garden:
Cultivation, the clearing of imperfection, was the way to salvation [he thought], the opening of the grand hall directly into the heart of God.
In this garden the priest seeks an appropriation of Heaven on earth, but in doing so neglects those in his care. He, unlike Filemòn, does not labour in this pursuit, nor does he concern himself with the anxieties of his charges ‘except on a level of seeming’.
The priest in turn barely watered [his congregation’s] holidays with chants and visions and hopes, only faintly soothed their longings and fears with thickness of ambience and scent and incantation.
Together, these characters illustrate the overarching motif of Montry’s magical debut; that the ‘same’ goal may be achieved by conflicting methods. Filemón and the mendicant priest circumvent each other in pursuit of similar objectives. As is said by Filemòn’s father in one memorable exchange:
Never were languages to be concentric…A circle drawn to encompass the meaning of a word in one language was never to lay perfectly over the circle and boundaries of that word’s translation into another tongue…always would there be ambiguities of meaning associated with writing or speaking or reading in translation…to know but one language was to know none.
Ink demonstrates the writer’s passion for the intricacies of language and his talent for character; each of the fictional inhabitants of Laredo are invested with richly painted inner workings and all illuminate in some way the human condition when in contact with familiar forces.
The unusual composition of the book – it has been produced as a small, squarish book no more than fifteen centimeters tall or wide; inside, the pages boast a far deeper margin than usually encountered – lends an additional weight to Montry’s already powerful lyrical prose. When reading the novel, one is entirely invested, as though devoting time to a spiritual ritual; it is as though the reader sits in intense contemplation with a religious or philosophic text. Passages can be experienced, like poetry, apart from their fellows as separate aphorisms and proverbs, or appreciated in their whole as part of the wider narrative.
Montry has produced a philosophical novel that deals more openly with its subject than the work of, for example, Iris Murdoch or A.S. Byatt, but progresses as a novel as pleasantly and as lyrically as a piece by Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Italo Calvino. Ink is a fable for the modern world; it is a subtly powerful debut from a writer whose work we should anticipate.
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Ink is available to buy from Guerrilla Books at £12.00. A free chapter is now available to sample.