Review: Pseudotooth by Verity Holloway (Unsung Stories 2017)

Review by Dinesh Raghavendra

Pseudotooth is difficult to pin down into any specific genre. There is fantasy, there is horror and then there all the multiple themes get together and keep you engrossed till the end. The book can be a bit uneven at times but the manic plot directions that keep the narrative surging forward can be entertaining at times. It reminded me a lot of some of Michael Cisco’s writing particularly in Celebrant and Animal Money. The themes of trauma and how it can impact a person’s life and the myriad ways in which victimhood is refuted or the ways in which people seek denial keep recurring throughout the story.

The protagonist is a teenager named Aisling who is suffering from eating disorders and blackouts. We discover more about the character through her diary entries and Feodor- another character who is broken in his own ways- Holloway toys with the reader’s imagination and it’s not clear whether Feodor is real or just a hallucination. There is Chase, another character who plays the sidekick on Aisling’s journey and helps her at a crucial moment in the story. Then there is Tor, the old woman who provides refuge to Aisling and perspective about her journey.

Verity Holloway employs inventive language and versatile imagery to keep the plot moving forward. Her writing always clear is nevertheless unusual especially in terms of descriptions that can be at times subtle and at times direct. I found the initial descriptions of the countryside and the vicarage a bit dull but then she manages to keep the prose from collapsing into dry and predictable lines and manages to inject vivaciousness right from the opening chapters. There are paragraphs which are exquisite in their structure and all the William Blake references lend a touch of poetry to the proceedings.

Overall, this was a difficult book to get into at times but well worth the effort. It is demanding in its scope and its themes and is sincere in its intent. There are no easy “outs” and there is no pay-off after pages of exposition. The book mimics real life in the sense that expectations do not necessarily need to be met and there is the consistent element of unevenness and not even a sense of closure. This need to be annoying necessarily as there is the satisfaction that this is how things always pan out and dealing with traumatic experiences cannot always be solved with simplistic platitudes. A very enjoyable read despite the complexity.

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