The Imagination Thief by Rohan Quine

Cover of The Imagination Thief by Rohan QuineAn intriguing book that addresses many big issues (love, sex, death, power, the nature and reliability of human memory, history, culture, human potential, the constraints of 21st century society, and more) within an unusual structure of mini-chapters punctuated by audio and video clips.

The contrasting settings of busy, businesslike Manhattan and the ghost town of a nearby decaying seaside resort are only the backdrop to huge flights of fancy into the minds of the characters, explored by the newly psychic hero Jaymi. As he delves into their memories, sights and sounds from all over the world – real and imagined – spill forth, from war-torn Vietnam to idyllic classical gardens, beneath the oceans and into outer space. All of these experiences are described with a larger-than-life intensity that put me strangely in mind of Coleridge’s Kublai Khan – and occasionally its drug-induced origins too!

It’s not an easy or comfortable read, particularly when closely examining mental and physical cruelty and violence between some of the characters. I read with a constant sense of foreboding. However even the most shocking passages are underpinned by the compassion, pity and tenderness of the narrator for all but the most brutal characters. There’s also some very welcome, very British understated humour to offset some of the horror. The brevity of the “mini-chapters” was well-judged – I felt I needed to come up for air after some of the short episodes, and to assimilate the latest action before moving on.

The immediacy of the story is more keenly felt because it is written in the present tense – always more demanding on the reader, I find, and even more so in this case because although most is in the first person, there are also many second-person narratives, where Jaymi is reading the minds of other characters and addressing them: “You move closer…” That the author is able to keep the reader not only engaged but tantalised by this difficult mode of storytelling indicates the power of his prose.

Though it’s very much a modern book, with the constraints of modern life as one of its themes, there are touches of the classic about it too, reminding this reader of Johnson’s Rasselas (at risk of sounding pretentious and also doubting my own memory, as it’s about 30 years since I read that book!) Jaymi is really in many ways an innocent abroad, though he thinks he is so knowing. He may be able to read people’s minds in details, but some of the simplest conclusions pass him by

As I turned the pages, I found myself puzzling how on earth this intense tale would end. Without spoiling the plot, I can say I found the conclusion surprising, redemptive and satisfying.

My Kindle wasn’t able to cope with the audio and video files, and the prose was compelling enough to make me want to skip those and get on with the story, but it was an interesting idea to include them – more evidence of the author’s prodigious creativity. So, here we have not so much an imagination thief, but, to the reader, an imagination expander. Great stuff – thank you, Rohan Quine.

Rohan’s author website is www.rohanquine.com

8 thoughts on “The Imagination Thief by Rohan Quine

  1. Debbie, I’m honoured you’ve posted this here, and what a beautifully thoughtful, receptive, generous reader you are! Thanks for the Coleridge and Johnson references; I must read “Rasselas”. Alongside many modern influences (e.g. there are snatches of various pop lyrics that I enjoyed sneaking into the fabric of unsuspecting sentences), there are indeed quite a few other influences that are classic, as you say, spanning from Classical to aberrant classics. Pre-eminent there is probably Lautréamont. In fact, in paragraph 4 of mini-chapter 96 I implicitly inform Lautréamont that “The Imagination Thief” is my deliberate and serious reply to his “Maldoror” – a kind of love-letter from me to him, across the decades and the languages that separate us! (BTW, if anyone’s buying him in English, then definitely go for the Alexis Lykiard translation,
    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/157687.Maldoror_and_the_Complete_Works .) From that same varied classic/Classical span, and in no particular order, the rich watermarks of William Beckford, Mary Renault, Elizabeth Smart, Jean Rhys, Huysmans, Baudelaire, Bataille, Petronius, de Sade, Robbe-Grillet, Marie Corelli and Iris Murdoch are all most lovingly there in the mix too, among others; and the Olympian nature of Jaymi’s viewpoint owes something to Marguerite Yourcenar’s “Memoirs of Hadrian”. In visual terms, the gardens you mention were influenced by the classic/Classical gardens and other exteriors seen in Aubrey Beardsley, Edward Burne-Jones and John Martin, with a flavour of Frederic Leighton thrown in too – all these being offset, again, by many more modern influences.

    Along the lines of the above-mentioned homage to Lautréamont, one of my four soon-to-be-published novellas (the London novella) will be a homage to Oscar Wilde, as well as being other things too. Then who’ll be next, I wonder? Hmm … will I be ready to take on Paris Hilton, perhaps?

    1. I’m sure you’ll find it an interesting read, Helena, though it’s not always an easy one – parts of it definitely need an 18 rating! But some beautiful, soaring lyrical passages in there too – and as a flash fiction writer, you will appreciate the short mini-chapters!

    2. It’s my pleasure, Rohan – and now I’m tempted to reread it to see if I can spot all the references you mention! (though I’ve not read all of the people you listed – yet…) I’ve just dusted down my ancient copy of “Rasselas” – a tiny, ancient, forest-green hardback which utterly charmed me when I was a student. I think it’s the shared element of the picaresque that made the connection for me, and the notion of the innocent abroad. Not sure whether the link will leap out at anyone else – I’ve put it by my bed to read again to see whether my memory has served me well on this one!

      1. Sharp, to pick up on the centrality of that combination of picaresque and innocent abroad, as driving forces: someone I unfairly forgot to put on my list of influential writers above is Jean Genet, whose novels have the former quality and (strangely) the latter too. And what charm indeed, in that “tiny, ancient, forest-green hardback” at your bedside once again!

    3. Pleased to see that my friend Helena Mallett has just downloaded a copy of “The Imagination Thief” as the result of this review, Rohan! Helena writes flash fiction and I’m sure she’ll enjoy the density and intensity of your prose. I reviewed her first collection of flash fiction here: http://youngbyname.me/reviews/directory-of-book-reviews/flash-fraction-by-helena-mallett/ It’s a really good read, great fun and thought-provoking – 75 stories each of exactly 75 words!

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