Review of Rohan Quine’s ‘The Imagination Thief’

 

On the eve of a major career development, securities executive Jaymi Peek has an epiphany in his New York skyscraper that grants him a kind of multi-functional second sight. Able to read people’s minds, influence their desires and read their histories, his first act is to overwhelm a media mogul in order to use the man’s network to broadcast a message that will liberate the imaginations of everyone who views it. Jaymi’s noble ambition is to inspire people around the world to move beyond the narrow existential confines they have imposed upon themselves and then… Well, he isn’t sure what will happen next; a dynamic that renders him thrillingly amoral and makes this ambitious and unusual novel wholly unpredictable.
Holed up in a secret recording studio in a run-down seaside town outside New York, Jaymi and his best friend Alaia, a singer whose voice will counterpoint Jaymi’s world-changing broadcast, become embroiled in the relationships, politics and power play of the extraordinary locals. Jaymi’s new power is balanced by an increasing emotional distance from everyone around him, which is perhaps what prevents him abusing it. Instead, he finds he can explore not only the real memories of his new friends but their fantasies as well.
These sequences are incredibly powerful, richly poetic and unique. Rohan Quine is a very insightful writer, with an understanding and empathy that anchor these hyper-eroticised, often surreal flights in a comprehensible reality. There is, if anything, an embarrassment of riches here but that’s a minor consideration. As a reader, you wonder what Jaymi would make of you, whether he would find you as interesting as the terrifying but beguiling gangster Lucan or his demented lover, Angel.
Angel, out of his mind on drugs, female hormones and desire that seems to claw out of the page at you, is the exact opposite of the coolly aloof Jaymi, which is possibly why Angel is my favourite character. Too alien to be the protagonist, he nonetheless seems to drive a lot of the narrative as he seeks relief from an abusive but scarily compelling relationship whose depiction captures a rare sense of obsessive lust.
The freewheeling structure allows the author to dip in and out of different narratives and styles, worlds and fantasies. It also enables him to explore multiple genres, often within the same sequence. For example, Jaymi’s ‘gift’, if that’s what it is, may either be from a magic flame in China or it may be of extra-terrestrial origin. That neither is categorically confirmed in no way detracts from the sense that anything can and does happen.
Despite the original structure, however, events do build to a tragic climax whose only predictability is that it is fittingly strange. I often like to mention other similar books as a ‘way in’ for review readers but there is nothing else like this novel and that is my best recommendation.

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