Pros: Incredibly ‘real’ and fascinating story
Cons: Very difficult to classify
Rating: 5 out of 5
Review copy courtesy of Myrmidon Books.
Thirteen, by Sebastian Beaumont, is incredibly difficult to classify. It’s the tale of a night shift taxi driver in Brighton who finds himself slipping into the world of Thirteen. Thirteen, as The Nurse tells him, is a state of mind, not a place, and within it people appear, drop cryptic hints about protagonist Stephen Bardot’s life, affect him in myriad and powerful ways, and vanish again. He pursues Thirteen with single-minded obsession until it nearly kills him, but by the time he realizes he has to walk away, it has no intention of letting him go.
Stephen was spinning his wheels in his life, on the rocks and depressed, when he ran into his childhood friend Graham. Graham posed a challenge to him: allow Graham to choose an occupation for Stephen. Stephen would carry it out for one year and see where it took him. Finally Stephen agreed, but he never imagined that Graham would tell him to become a nighttime taxi driver—nor that his new career would take him to such unusual places. There’s the vanishing Nurse; the dying woman who grows younger and healthier; the house that vanishes, reappears, and changes over time; windows that break and then reappear whole the next morning… but every time Stephen questions anything, Thirteen becomes more distant or more dangerous.
The most remarkable thing about this bizarre tale is just how ordinary and ‘real’ it seems. It’s filled with many tales of odd taxi fares (most of them true tales from the author’s experiences) and a world so grounded in ordinary detail that it’s hard to shake the feeling that you’re reading not a fairy tale, not an “is it all in his head?” tale, not a tale of mystery or the supernatural, but perhaps a memoir or a mildly fictionalized retelling of real events. Because of this, I find it incredibly difficult to classify. Not that a piece of writing needs classification, but it can be helpful to readers who prefer particular types of writing. Suffice it to say, if you need your books to fall neatly into a category, this might not be for you. If, however, you enjoy being wrapped up in utterly bizarre and ineffable events, I heartily recommend Thirteen.
Obviously I don’t want to give away what might be going on in this book, but I will say one or two things. Books where everything turns out to be entirely in the protagonist’s head were new and fascinating not that long ago, but they don’t tend to be all that original any longer. Thus I’m very glad that this book’s plot wasn’t that simple or straightforward—there’s far more to it than that, so you needn’t worry about being disappointed on that front.
The characters—both ‘real’ and those from Thirteen—are complex and interesting, with plenty of depth; even the ones that seem to be flat at first turn out not to be. There’s just the right amount of detail to the book, making it fly along yet creating a remarkably vivid texture; even though I’ve never been near Brighton, I didn’t have any trouble visualizing the area.
If you prefer books that are neatly wrapped up in a package, with an easily-defined genre and no threads or details left unexplained, this isn’t the book for you. If, however, you enjoy books that make your head spin and push you to wrap yourself up in their mysteries, Thirteen is a fascinating and amazing read.
Obligatory warning: Taxi conversations are faithfully reproduced, including vulgarities, profanities, and so on.
Before I read a review of Thirteen on another blog (I wish I could remember where so I could give them credit!) I had never heard of Myrmidon Books, and it seems that some of their books aren’t easily available in the US through the usual channels such as Amazon. More’s the pity for us, because this is the third of four review books from them that I’ve read, and each of the three has been absolutely stunning in entirely different ways from the others. Between Thirteen, The Gift of Rain, and I Married a Pirate, I’d happily pick up any further books they chose to put out.