Book Review : Matthew Revert - Basal Ganglia (2013)
The knowledge he has to let go is much worse than the moment it happens. We invent attachments that feed on past loss. Silent fear finds its voice in objects we keep, reaching a volume we cannot ignore when goodbye arrives.
Australian renaissance man Matthew Revert is primarily known for creating gorgeous, eye-popping book covers. What makes him a standout visual artist is his tremendous sense of style. His work is instantaneously recognizable. Visuals arts aren't Revert's only forte, though. He's also an accomplished, SPIN-reviewed musician AND a the author of five novels, including cult classic Basal Ganglia. I've picked that one up on an emotional whim after hearing Revert himself speak of the challenges of writing it on indie publishing podcast the JDO Show. Basal Ganglia is the definition of an acquired taste. Some people will disregard it as confusing and ambitiously experimental. It definitely is an assault to the senses and an unconventional reading and it is by design. Basal Ganglia is meant to shock and challenge audiences more than it is meant to entertain in the classic sense of the term.
Basal Ganglia is a short book (the paperback is 120 pages according to Amazon), but the emotional and cosmic resonance of the narrative makes it difficult to summarize. There are two lead characters: Rollo and Ingrid, who live in a pillow fort. Unless they are sleeping or eating, they're never in the same room. Rollo spends his waking hours losing himself in manual labor, letting kinetic energy flowing into him and experiencing the purity of the now in Buddhist-like fashion. Ingrid's function inside the fort are harder to define. She questions her purpose and projects a life outside of the reality they've build for themselves. But in a world built for self-sufficiency, foreign desires have the power to destroy tangible realities. When Ingrid tells Rollo she wants a child, a vortex of existential paranoia opens under his feet. I'm sorry if it doesn't quite makes sense, it's a case of you-have-to-read-it-to-get-the-bigger-picture.
So, what is Basal Ganglia REALLY about? My guess is probably as good as yours but I've developed several hypotheses that are somewhat related. I believe most readings of Basal Ganglia are equally valid and tie into the philosophical backbone of the novel: entropy and recurring patterns of the universe. Let me explain myself. Who are Rollo and Ingrid, really? The easier answer is that they're different functions of a human brain, living in limited interdependence. That part, everyone more or less agrees upon. I think Basal Ganglia REALLY takes off when it starts blurring the line between social and biological reality and alluding to the cosmic fatality of existence. Matthew Revert exposes through a very nimble and though-provoking use of language, the resonance between the infinitely small and the infinitely large and defines the human condition as a self-conscious in-between, capable to put it all together or tear it into pieces. Confused? Here's an example of what I'm saying:
In groups people devolve and subsume into a malignant mass. The mass distills into collective will guided by the lowest common denominator. The mass exhibits the fury of its most furious. The confusion of its most confused.
Revert, in three short sentences, has drawn a parallel between cancer, mobs and asteroids and offered an acceptable cosmic definition of the phenomenon of growing masses. It's both logical and elusive. The beauty of Basal Ganglia lies in its keen understanding of our powerlessness to define the universe. Everything ends, both the sacred and the profane. New beginnings constantly bloom from endings and transform the world into something that redefines itself every day and it will keep doing so long after you've pushed up daisies. Matthew Revert not only admits his powerlessness in Basal Ganglia, but he embraces it like Heraclitus stepped in the river. I guess you could say there's pre-Socratic influence to Basal Ganglia. Both in the language and in the underlying philosophy and I thought it was as honest and moving as novels so allegorically loaded can be.
So yeah, Basal Ganglia is short but it's a book you read slowly. I wouldn't say pleasure and satisfactions are feelings you should expect out of this book. It wants nothing to do with fulfilling or even acknowledging your expectations. It exist in a parallel reality to your desires and one should really be familiar with these intangible feelings of existential dissatisfaction and anxiety before picking it up. Visual arts might not be Matthew Revert's best talent after all. Basal Ganglia shows that he has the vision and the empathy to be the next great avant garde writer. I loved the book. It's a fragmented, kaleidoscopic puzzle that becomes a sweeping picture of the universe if you have the courage to pull it all together. A lean, mean, must-read juggernaut for cerebral readers.