MKL Murphy, The Isle of Minimus, Repeater Books, 2016.
The Isle of Minimus is a neon mirage from the heart of the sandblasted Nevada wasteland, a panorama of crazed dictators, dreamy acrobats, the urban warlords of Hollywood, video game cults, sinister boatmen, rogue airshow pilots, feral tourists, minituarised landmarks, opium dens, pop art, nuclear war, architecture, music, money, the sixties, the nineties, the post-nineties… a story of limitless scope and spectacle.
Using repetition, paradox and association, the novel leaves conventional views of linearity behind as it revisits the World’s Fair in Montreal 1967 and its antithesis, Las Vegas in 1999, by way of a confrontation in which a cast of dwarfs fight their way out of the now-never of capitalist ontology in an attempt to find a way back into history.
In a World where Miniature Paris Exists… The Little People are Taking Control…
Mid-1990s. Las Vegas. A gunshot rings out. Hercule Percepied wends through the diminutive sewer tunnels below Miniature Paris as police pursue him. A tightrope walker with even more accomplishments and outrageous stunts to his name than Charles Blodin, who crossed Niagara Falls on a wire, Hercule holds the narrative center of this sprawling, deeply satirical, Pynchon-esque debut novel. Hercule’s foil is Marcel X, a university professor whose political correctness would make the founders of microagressions.com blush. Marcel X is also the intellectual heavy behind a work stoppage the Little People have taken against the Paris Hotel and Casino. The striker’s physical protector and bodyguard is the tall (for a Little Person) Lucille Li. As popularity for the strike grows, people around the world begin to join in and Hercule is determined, Ayn Rand-style, to stop it dead.
Along the way, M.K.L. Murphy introduces us to the fictional Isle of Minimus, based in the English Channel—the sovreign nation of Little People, led by Lord Khazad, a Kaddhafi-type sensualist who basks in the seedy delights of Vegas. We also pay visit to the 1967 Montreal Expo and World’s Fair where miniature cities first got their start.
In the spirit of David Foster Wallace and Thomas Pynchon, The Isle of Minimus is an ambitious, curious piece of fiction that seeks to redefine expectations of the novel form while making a statement about the “now-never” of capitalist hegemony. - watkinspublishing.com/watkinsusa/the-isle-of-minimus-by-mkl-murphy/
I was provided a copy of The Isle of Minimus in exchange for an honest review.
I’ll get this out of the way off the bat – MKL Murphy’s The Isle of Minimus is not an easy book to read. That doesn’t mean it’s without merit, but readers should be prepared for a novel without paragraph or even sentence breaks. It jumps constantly between characters, locations, and time periods, blending real-world people and places with invented ones, all treated with an odd sense of pseudo-affectionate contempt.
To the extent that the book has a narrative, it revolves mainly around a workers’ strike by a group of dwarfs who work at a Las Vegas resort attraction called “Mini-Paris.” Murphy invents bizarre dwarf culture that seems to be drawn somewhat from Tolkien-style fantasy depictions (their leader’s name is Lord Khazâd, and they consider beardlessness shameful), but it’s also applied to real Little People. I imagine that this ambiguity (and the resulting discomfort) was deliberate.
The dwarf confusion is just one of the ways that Murphy blends real pop cultural references with fictional ones – this is a world where the evil, goatee’d Mr. Spock is the real one, and Gene Roddenberry created a futuristic version of Baywatch. This blend of the real-fictional and the fictional-fictional make this feel like a real world just slightly removed from our own. A sizeable chunk of the book looks at a movie that was ostensibly filmed in Montreal during the World Fair ’67 called Soixante-Neuf, agent provocatif in which our central dwarf, Hercule, played a small role. I really enjoyed the Soixante-Neuf bits, the bizarre plot, wild exaggeration of James Bond tropes, and inclusion of as many actors from the ‘60s as possible made those sections a lot of fun. The fact that any of the narrative threads can feel continuous or tied together is frankly impressive, given that Murphy can drop one thing for 10 or 20 pages and then pick up again – without ever ending the sentence.
It’s also difficult to tell sometimes how much of the political and social commentary we’re meant to be agreeing with, and what’s meant to be overblown and laughable. Although some of it is clearly sarcastic: "everyone understood that there was no difference between having something and being something, that there was no alternative to consumerism except death". Despite the stream-of-consciousness style, Murphy’s language is careful and deliberate, so I sometimes found myself reading sections for the sake of the words themselves more than their intended meaning. The ending of the sentence is spectacularly bland, and casts an existential hue over the entire novel.
While the characters in the book are memorable, I can’t say I came out of it with affection for any of them, since no one is portrayed with much warmth. Lord Khazâd is particularly unpleasant, a racist and misogynist practical-dictator in the dwarfs’ homeland, the titular Isle of Minimus. Some of his misogyny spilled over into other parts of the book, and I didn’t especially enjoy reading about women who mostly idiots to be ogled. Lucille, the leader of the rebellious dwarfs (and member of the Cult of Mallrat, which sprung up around movie tie-in video game) has a bit more colour, personality, and competence than most of the other characters of any gender.
A lot of the unpleasantness is undoubtedly tied to particular characters’ points of view, but the stream-of-consciousness style makes it difficult to differentiate, and there were moments where this felt like a juvenile vanity project (such as the claim that Japan’s flag is due to a ceremony of deflowering virgins). The way the characters and places and times runs together can be disorienting, but it also leads to some incredibly striking surreal imagery, such as a man on stilts who finds and rescues people who have become trapped in cocoons. But this isn’t the kind of book to bring to the beach – if you’re not focused, it’s easy to become confused and overwhelmed. But then maybe that’s the point; it can be a bit challenging to follow the story, to the extent that there is a story, but if you go for the ride and let the words wash over you, the peculiar rhythm can be immersive and dream-like, and maybe that's enough. - Allison O'Toole
and they said God bless America the tears streaming down their cheeks like blood
CONTINUE READING — OPENS IN PDF - James Knight