Martin MacInnes - offers up 29 explanations as to what happened to Carlos. They range from the possible to the absurd. The last one reads: “Carlos isn’t here. Carlos isn’t gone. This isn’t everything. This is a brief light.”
Martin MacInnes, Infinite Ground, Atlantic Books, 2016.
“Stunning—a totally original, surreal mystery shot through with hints of the best of César Aira, Vladimir Nabokov, Angela Carter, and Julio Cortázar. Smart, clever, and honest. I doubt you’ve read anything quite like it.” —Jeff VanderMeer
Carlos has disappeared. A retired inspector takes the case, but what should be a routine investigation becomes something strange, even sinister. As the inspector relives and retraces the missing man's footsteps, the trail leads him away from the city sprawl and deep into the country's rainforest interior, where he encounters both horror and wonder.show more
On a sweltering summer night at a restaurant in an unnamed Latin American city, a man at a family dinner gets up from the table to go to the restroom . . . and never comes back. He was acting normal, say family members. None of the waiters or other customers saw him leave.
A semi-retired detective takes the case, but what should be a routine investigation becomes something strange, intangible, even sinister. The corporation for which the missing man worked seems to be a front for something else; the staff describes their colleague as having suffered alarming, shifting physical symptoms; a forensic scientist examining his office uncovers evidence of curious microorganisms.
As the detective relives and retraces the man’s footsteps, the trail leads him away from the city sprawl and deep into the country’s rainforest interior . . . where, amidst the overwhelming horrors and wonders of the natural world, a chilling police procedural explodes into a dislocating investigation into the nature of reality.
An electrifying piece of work: strange, terrifying, riveting, and written with scintillating intelligence. In its thinking about the porosity between the human and the non-human, it stands shoulder to shoulder with Ballard, Lem, VanderMeer, Tom McCarthy. — Neel Mukherjee
Brimming with with strong, startling ideas… A curious and often remarkable book –Liam Hess
A novel of intelligence, grace, cunning and warped imagination, one that melds and sometimes clashes styles and influences to create something original and unsettling. It is a bravura performance, and one that announces Martin MacInnes as one of our most exciting new voices. –Stuart Evers
Labyrinthine, beautifully written and teeming with ideas about fiction and reality that linger long in the mind… A frighteningly good debut novel. –Lee Rourke
A talent of the first rank… We want to be informed and entertained, I might also say, provoked and enlarged, and Martin MacInnes delivers on all fronts with writing of genuine bravura and originality. –Christopher Potter
This is the work of a most singular and inventive mind, matched by writing with real flair and clarity. It is a book alive with ideas and cock-eyed intelligence, brimming with passages of genuine brilliance. Infinite Ground does that magical thing that only the very best novels do: it makes you see the world afresh. Dazzling stuff. –Graeme Macrae Burnet
A surreal crime mystery at one level and at another a profoundly serious exploration of the fragility and isolation of modern life. — Saltire Literary Awards panelTowards the end of this impressive and finely textured debut, there is a chapter entitled “What Happened to Carlos – Suspicions, Rumours, Links”. This is the only named chapter and it lists a series of variations related to the disappearance of the novel’s missing person – 29-year-old Carlos. These range from Carlos not being Carlos, to Carlos never having disappeared at all, or Carlos being the victim of a “sudden and giant molecular distortion”. The final speculation is No 29: “Carlos isn’t here. Carlos isn’t gone. This isn’t everything. This is a brief light.”
Of course, the list is no more or less of an account of Carlos’s disappearance than fiction itself accounts for reality. And, in a sense, that is the point; Infinite Ground takes place in an unnamed South American country, and Martin MacInnes’s first novel is deep in sub-Borgesian territory. This is fiction as a metaphorical labyrinth of the mind – wherein what happens may or may not have actually occurred; wherein experience and imaginings are indistinguishable; and everything is equally true and untrue.The opening citation, meanwhile, is from The Passion According to GH – the 1964 novel by the Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector, written in the form of a nightmarish monologue detailing an existential crisis following the accidental crushing of a cockroach. (The link back to Kafka is more than merely entomological.) Foremost among MacInnes’s subjects – thus we glean – are the fractured nature of consciousness and the fabric of reality itself.
Ostensibly, though, Infinite Ground is about an unnamed inspector trying to find Carlos by way of interviews and crime scene reconstructions. And for a while, MacInnes somewhat craftily benefits from the plot-pull of this setup. But if the inspector is the protagonist circling Carlos’s central absence, then “Suspicion, Rumour, Link” No 5 warns that the investigation might well be no more than “an indulgent and morbid fantasy created by a man in middle age in grief for his dead wife”. Another way to read this book is as a meditation on the nature of the human psyche under the intense pressure of loss and isolation.
Throughout, MacInnes’s prose demeanour is slightly antiquarian – people “purport” and “assign … temporary monikers”. In the forest, while others are occupied with cameras, the inspector’s “leather pouch” contains “his own set of optical lenses”. This sets up a tone that creates a necessary out-of-time feel; but that sometimes chafes against modernity so that, for example, MacInnes has to clumsily append “and he didn’t have his phone” to an explanation of why the inspector cannot find the address of a hospital.
In terms of word selection, however, MacInnes is clearly a serious artist. There is a skilful and delicate cadence to many of the paragraphs. Images are novel and precise. The jungle air is “antic” with mosquitoes. The inspector’s forest tour group lacks the “shrill buoyancy” normally associated with such parties. A mechanic, Miguel, “threaded wire while he talked, his words small and conservative next to the fluency of his hands”.
Occasionally, MacInnes pushes too far, perhaps: “The words were mute, like the hummed melodies remaining in the ground surfaces of nightmare-weathered teeth.” But even this image is interesting and – on closer reading – a restatement of his main theme, if slightly off.