I’ve recently read ‘For All is Vanity’ by Robert Cowan. It totally does what it says on the tin! To start with it put me in mind of Gogol’s ‘Diary of a Madman’ – updated and set initially in Strathaven and then in London – well of course London is the place any soul would go when it was disintegrating, no? It is a profound and profoundly disturbing book. Not an ‘easy’ read by any stretch of the imagination. Then as the coherence broke down I became even more fascinated. But then I am supremely interested in what it is that makes us change our ‘narrative stance’ in real life from first person to second person and beyond… and this novel looked at that in the context of a man’s mental breakdown. It gave me plenty of food for thought on the subject. But it’s a dark, dark and disturbing story. Be warned.
I was particularly impressed by the control of the structure – while the narrative is all about destruction and loss of central coherence, the narrative still hung on there and kept things in place, so to speak. It’s not an easy thing to do to show mental crisis and the disconnect from reality. The best book I know that does this is Stuart Ayris’s ‘Tollesbury Time Forever’ – in many ways a completely opposite ‘read’ to Cowan’s. (which is not a criticism of Cowan by the way, simply indicating that there is a complete spectrum available for the writer and the reader. And a suggestion that we should explore the entire spectrum, not sit comfortably in the middle ground of mainstream/bestseller culture.)
I would recommend anyone to read both books and to reflect that this is not the kind of writing you would ever get from mainstream publishing. They are far too ‘dangerous’ and they are, for me, two very good reasons why we should support ‘indie’ publishing.