Juushika's Reviews > A Voyage to Arcturus

A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay
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's review
Sep 12, 2011

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bookshelves: status-owned
Read in September, 2011

Swept from Victorian England to a distant planet, everyman Maskull begins an epic journey of discovery through that alien environment towards its metamorphic gods. A third of the way into his journey, Maskull encounters a violently sexual woman, murders her husband, demands her obedience, and then has her sing a song while they travel. Its "words were pure nonsense—or else their significance was too deep for him" (113). The same can well be said of this entire book. A Voyage to Arcturus is a fever dream of exploration, metaphor, and metaphysics, but its dry voice is often its undoing, removing the reader too far from its universal aspirations. Lindsay's voice is so distant and dry that not even his vibrant landscape can enliven it—but that landscape is vibrant, alien, and thought-provokingly strange, with a sprinkling of images that linger in the imagination. His protagonist is alternately brutal and blank, with a changing character that reflects all but encapsulates none—he's a figure, not a person, and offers little for the reader to grasp on to. These aspects create an unexpectedly sterile story, one that's too easy to put down and to find distance from, although it's otherwise remarkably easy to read despite its density. It also enables Lindsay to reach an uneasy balance between exploring his concepts and leaving that exploration to the reader: not one that encourages reader involvement and internalization, but one that often remains at a cool distance and leaves the reader unmoved.

Yet Voyage is in its way a success. It reads almost like poetry, and can be approached in the same way: by skating over it, bamboozled but affected and intrigued, or by digging into and dissecting it in the attempt to make sense of its madness. Clute's strong introduction to this imprint is an aid towards the latter goal, but even taken on its own the novel's final pages are sufficiently strong to cap off the story with something solid, if not simple. There's nothing simple to be found here, but there is plenty in the way of rich food for thought—sometimes too rich, sometimes as stale as the book is dated, sometimes made unsatisfying by the book's determination to deny its own conclusions, but an promising cornucopia nonetheless. I found A Voyage to Arcturus to be a long, slow, strange journey, but on the whole it's one I'm glad to have taken: cerebral to the point of dry, but still intriguing and wholly original, this may not be pleasure reading but it is worth picking up. I recommend this particular edition (Bison Frontiers of Imagination from the University of Nebraska Press) with certain caveats, however: the introduction is strong, but I counted 20 typos and even from a small press, that's unacceptable.
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