7 Feb 2012


>Transformation - review of a novel by Rab Swannock Fulton

I’m hard to please when it comes to novels. As a poet and short story writer I find so many of them too long, over-written, suited to publishers’ required word-counts rather than resonating harmoniously, vividly, with their own inner dynamics.

So when Rab’s book arrived in the post I already loved it on two counts. One: it is a neatly but simply bound, slender volume in a butter yellow cover. And two: the last book Rab sent was witty and engaging enough to make me very happy; so here was more of that.

But Transformation is far more than a good storytellers yarn. It had the ability to get me hooked and keep me there, suspended, in every sentence. Rab Swannock Fulton is a writer who can craft a story; can weave together the disparate threads of plot, setting, characters, voice, etcetera, so as to slowly reveal dimensions far greater than the sum of their parts.

I wonder how much the years of performing stories to live audiences, has been part of developing this writer’s essential voice: that way a storyteller can draw the audience beyond the room, past the realms of fireside or candlelight, beyond the ‘fourth wall’ of limitations – to where story, time, and imagination merge. This takes place here in print, bringing that rare sense of the Presence of Actual Magic.

But let me clarify: Transformation has no juvenile echo of Narnian realms, no yawn-inducing Middle-Earth dimensions. Its realms are archetypal, archaic; projecting shadows onto the psyche in a way that might concern Professors Jung and Freud enough to rise from wherever it is they now lurk, and discuss the relevance of the Irish Pooka and the symbolism that belies its goaty myth.

The story begins on the most ordinary of days, and in contemporary Galway. Donnacha is a young man who works as a restaurant dish-washer, wondering at his chances with the girl who draws his attention. The characters that move around this busy scene are as real and as ordinary as any of us. Or are they?

Before too long, Donnacha is out of the kitchen and enjoying Life’s flavours in the wider world, and he is in love. It is a spiritual, yet earthy love that is consummated in one of the most exquisitely written chapters in the book; authentic to Donnacha’s first-person, youthful, erotic perspective.
So many reasonable or even good stories are ruined by a really naff erotic scene, in the sense that it is difficult to write about the most specific, corporeal, erotic sensations and for these fictitious events to be entirely convincing from the point of view and voice of that fictitious character. Here, it is done with acute awareness and sensitivity

From the chapter entitled ‘The River’:

“As our bodies moved and our limbs repositioned themselves to bring us closer and ever closer all my senses became acutely focused. I could smell every grain of rock dust, every drip of sweat; hear the boom of hair flapping against skin and the screams of birds getting louder and louder in my skull. My eyes flashed open to see a giant ant’s head the size of a football staring at me, eyes as big as tennis balls and its antennae twitching like broken radio aerials. With a blink my eyes refocused and the ant was just an ant scarcely two millimetres long grasping a stalk of grass that shook in the grunt and the bite and the pant and the grip of our bodies filling the sky and the river and the trees and everything that moved within them”

And the scene continues and increasingly delights…but that same heavenly day also unleashes a terrible force that follows the lovers through their tale like the metaphor of the river that gushes beside them. The undercurrents of water gather; the forces and the weather of it flow and deepen as does the plot; and meeting drama as it wends, and moods, and terrible fates, to eventually culminate in the most elemental of transformations.

is a force to relish and to wonder at, to be intrigued by and to be in the grip of. And us readers need Rab Swannock Fulton to be signed up immediately by any agent or publisher worth their position, so that this sharp talent might be further encouraged to write us some more.

Occasionally, a novel will take even those of us who are difficult to please, to the edges that we long for. Transformation is absolutely that.

The Pooka - cover image of Transformation by Rab Swannock Fulton


More work by, and news about Rab can be read here :
Marcus Marcus and the Hurting Heart