I recently saw a critics’ poll that stated that Mulholland Drive by David Lynch was one of, if not the greatest films of the 21st century and whilst attempting to get my head around what the hell that film is about, I’m reminded somewhat of the book that currently sits in front of me, “Marked” by Stuart Park. This, for want of better words is an absolute head fuck of a book that will tie your brain up in Gordian knots trying to decipher what it is all about. I first became aware of Stuart Park’s writing after reading “Oranges are Orange” in the second volume of the Black Room Manuscripts and was blown away by his ability to create a layered story that revealed more of itself at each reading. So, when I saw this novella on sale at Edge Lit 5 I just had to have it and to be honest, I’m not disappointed.
This is one of those books that I would be hard pressed to define as a particular style of writing. There are elements of horror, crime, fantasy, thriller and erotica genres in here but “Marked” is a novella that can not easily be categorised or described. I’ll try my hardest to give you an inkling of what it may be about but I fear that this review will sound like the ravings of a deranged lunatic. So, you ready? Then let’s go…
I think the starting point for me would be to say that Marked is a very sharp and smart novella that has got the old grey matter working overtime. Like his debut short story, Marked doesn’t reveal itself at the first sitting. This is one of those books that has little morsels and bread crumbs of information that hint at what might actually be going on but never explicitly defines it. I can appreciate that that sounds vague but after four reads I’m no closer to being able to tell you precisely what the story is about. Much like the reality portrayed here, clarity of thinking has become somewhat loose and abstract as I attempt to decipher the thoughts and ideas swirling around my brain like confetti.
Ostensibly the plot is about a man called Mark Goode who has a very strange day during a period of planetary alignment between Venus and Earth. The initial prologue follows the disappearance of his daughter and then shoots forward to the present day with him, his wife Kim and his new daughter Kate being haunted and hunted by their respective pasts. Echoing opening events, Kate goes missing and Mark embarks on a journey encountering progressively weirder situations and people including the mysterious Kiko that culminates in him going on a rampage. As the title suggests, Mark is a man for whom life has become irrevocably tainted and altered, whether that be by the celestial bodies in motion or by his own hand is another matter entirely.
The book struck me as some form of nightmarish puzzle waiting to be solved. Kind of like the paper based equivalent of The Lament Configuration that had me intensely scrutinising the words and trying to find the hidden seams that would be the key to unlocking the book’s secrets. At other points, I was simultaneously thinking about the legend of Ouroboros whilst feeling I was viewing a waking nightmare directed by David Lynch and designed by M.C. Escher. Reality and time throughout the course of the novella seem to weave in and out and this sense starts to creep up on you that all is most definitely not right with Mark’s grasp of reality. I really can’t get over that feeling that this is like a lucid nightmare in its style or, as one character puts it “abstracted reality.”
It is disorientating and disturbing whilst also being hypnotic and seductive. The book reads like a loose collection of disparate elements and images that may be clues or red herrings, yet it feels strangely tight and sharp in its delivery. That reads like a weird contrast of descriptions but a key element to understanding some of this novella would be around concepts of balance and karma. But to be honest I can’t really say. Each time I’ve read the damned thing I’ve felt like I’m playing with one of those Magic 8 balls that comes up with the same vague answer over and over again, “ask again later.” There’s a certain point where I thought that maybe Park is just fucking with my head and the little details that pointed towards some sort of explanation were just red herrings and the answer is staring me straight in the face. Maybe it is just as simple as the opening quote, “shit happens, then you die” and yet, each time that I get to the end I am faced with the same pop quiz questions to mull over ( yes, you did read that right, a pop quiz!). Then the grey matter starts sparking off and I am left with a multitude of questions going back and forth in my mind like a piñata; Is Mark real? Is he dead? Is he in limbo? Is he just having a crazy day? I’m sat here I’m still having vague notions about the book being something to do with karmic debt, personal demons and the fine line between good and evil. Yet I can’t be totally sure.
I don’t really know what else I can say about Marked to be honest. After my first read I was a bit bewildered and perplexed about what I’d just read. It does feel like your experiencing someone else’s nightmare made manifest and, as a result, the book is open to many different interpretations. Much like its’ titular character’s actions, I found myself repeatedly reading the book in an attempt to peel back the skin to reveal the secrets lurking beneath. I appreciate that you are probably reading this review and thinking my thoughts are as clear as mud but Marked for me was really quite a startling and disorientating book. What I would suggest is that you do keep your eyes open for more of Stuart Park’s writing, it’s really rather good.