“startlingly original” – review of The Rhymer on The Future Fire

On The Future Fire website, Djibril al-Ayad has written a thoughtful review of Douglas Thompson’s comic-poetic satire The Rhymer, an Heredyssey. Djibril starts the review with the observation that The Rhymer is “one of the more surreal and absurdist tales Thompson has written” and goes on to add that it is “entirely written in a style somewhere between free-association, free-verse, and comic semi-rhyme, which sounds like it would be hard to read, but actually isn’t”. Confessing “to not particularly liking any of the characters, or indeed the narrative voice, but I did find it pleasant to read, challenging in the way that literature should be, and sometimes startlingly original.”

The Rhymer cover image
Palimpsest derived from photos of Leonardo’s work by Janaka Dharmasena/shutterstock.com
Original artwork by Alison Buck

Describing The Rhymer as a “deeply satirical and allegorical book”, Djibril admits that the style is “challenging to define—and occasionally distracting to read. Narrated in the first person by an obsessive rhymer, all narrative, description, action, dialogue and quoted speech or text are peppered with random, strained, sometimes inappropriate or malapropos rhyming, semi-rhyming or alliterating words.” When the narrator reports others’ speech in the same way it is “a hint to the reader that not all in the world of this novel is as it is being described”.

Summarising the story, Djibril identifies that the protagonist “one might even say the only real character, is the narrator, an aged, unwashed, amnesiac tramp with antisocial habits but a gift of the gab” who is attempting to “catch up with his world-famous but corrupt brother”, adding that the “fortunes of both turn on a dime, sometimes reversing or plunging to hell at the turn of a page—in time-honored story-telling tradition”.

Djibril admits that the review “has not really done justice to the turns and twists” of the novel, “partly because it would be unfair to give too much away, and partly because any attempt to summarize the plot in this medium would be inadequate”. In conclusion Djibril says that The Rhymer “is clearly a painstakingly and expertly crafted piece of writing, speaking to surrealist and absurdist aesthetics as well as the antiquarian’s love of subverted folklore and retro-science fiction. As often with Thompson’s novels, I came out of reading this book not entirely unambivalent, but certainly not unmoved.”

You can read Djibril’s full review here.