The Talents of Mr McGarrigle
There’s the unique; then there’s the resplendently unique; and then there’s the regeneratively unique. The latter kind of uniqueness is one that continuously reforms itself without losing the integrity of its unparalleled state. The Talents, a work of literature by Carl McGarrigle, is one such creation.
Here’s the elevator pitch from this admirer: The book is a fantasy novel that amalgamates aspects found in The Lord of the Rings, The Hunger Games, Star Wars, The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Great Expectations. Yes, Tolkien meets Dickens having swallowed George Lucas on the Milky Way.There’s more. This is pixelated reverie made print. The other-worldly has its mysterious origins much closer to home. In the fiction, the central characters are snatched from Earth and relocated elsewhere. This is also true in reality. Real people inspired the roles, and were lifted speculatively by the sorcery of the writer’s act of imaginative abduction. I understand that transubstantiation very well, having experienced it from both sides now.
Without further ado – a declaration. Mr McGarrigle and I go back many mythical miles. He jelly-wobbled into my drama crucible over a third of a century ago. I planted an imaginary custard pie in his face, he returned the honour, and we made many theatrical bundles together. So, yes, I might be biased, and I first read The Talents with some trepidation, fearful that I might have to be guarded in my praise; but I need not have worried. I was genuinely thrilled by it, and especially pleased to savour its magical weave of multi-layered invention, while carried aloft by its literary competence and witty display. That was in 2016. I have recently re-read the work, and appreciated it even more. Stand by your woks, the long-promised sequel is just over the horizon.
When a creation is truly unique, it is both unfair and always a little misleading to compare it to other works, and many of those who have reviewed The Talents have started by saying this is not their normal genre of choice, and yet have loved it. It truth, it couldn’t be their normal genre because of its distinctiveness. So don’t let the fantasy label sway you too strongly. Just swallow.
It is the story of seven humans (one of whom is pretty handy with a wok, but not necessarily in a culinary sense) who are lifted from this planet and placed on one with two suns, domesticated unicorns and empathetically medicinal wildlife together with a selection of super-skilled humanoids, some of which are more than a tad malevolent. This place is Pandos. Talents abound, and some of those gifts are wondrously fantastic, but here’s the rub-a-dub-dub: the ex-Earth humans too, have talents, but these must be unlocked before they can be employed, and employed they must be, or it’s goodnight for good. Here’s a snippet to give you a sense of the setting:
Ay Babtu sprawled out before them on all sides, seemingly cut of ice-blue stone and orange crystal. Tall, residential columns, towers and minarets spiked up at the sky from many directions, linked by narrow, nausea-inducing bridges with great yawning drops on either side.The Talents, Chapter 14
So how and why was all this created?
Carl said: I’ve read some heavily praised titles in the past, that have bored the shit out of me. I’m thinking about some Booker Prize winning books here, and they have been miserable, turgid experiences to get through. I have also read books that, looking back, were nothing more than tame exercises in dull efficiency. These two types of books (which, to their credit, are far more successful than any of my efforts will ever be) have given me a valuable lesson: They have taught me what not to write.”
There’s honesty for you.
Carl continued: “I wanted to discover authors that I could understand and relate to, chiefly. Who wrote clearly, without any self-indulgence and over-complication. An author that I imagined I could relax in a pub with and just share a beer or two and a good chat.”
Well, Carl ticks all those boxes. His writing is clear, devoid of self-indulgence, and over-complication, and yes, he is excellent company in a hostilery. In our salad days we chewed the chadders, (a much loved snack on the planet Pandos) and drank the inspiration for Throatflayer and Fizzbollox (Pandosian ales) and I don’t recall us ever falling out, except of the door.
It is the continuous invention that makes the novel so entertaining. The plot is straightforward but its unfolding is literary origami and conducted by a Dickensian cornucopia of characters. They’ve all got something up at least one sleeve, and thereby hangs a theme. What talents might you and I have, and will it take a trauma to make us realise what it they are? Are they the eponymous gifts celebrated here? Is it the trigger for the inspiration that is the true talent of those that are observed? Might we never realise we are that so fabulously endowed? This theme, like a tower of academics, is clever on many levels.
“In their books,” says Carl, still on the topic of favoured authors, “I would seek out the trinkets that they had hidden in there: the extra surprises, bitesized quotes, words of wisdom and life’s truths, that the author had chosen to throw into the book’s mix. I have always described these elements as ‘the specks of gold amongst the gravel’ and I still look for them now, whenever I read a book.”
And there’s the next reason to unpeel this tome. There’s gold-dust in them there paper canyons. For example, the place where the illusions of those we would have liked to have known for real, become real projections, that remain only temporarily before vanishing for ever and yet never going away. More specks of gold include the rendering of the aching wrench of duty that forces separation from known, yet unacknowledged, affection. Then there is the postal service of Pandos – delivered precisely and concisely by the Wing Things, who are pure joy to read about. Another is the notion of a bird that flies perpetually, higher even than the air, and not only sees and hears, but swallows and stores the feelings of those below. The anti-devil of this gold-dust is in the detail of the description. Life’s truths are typeset in the font of all wisdom.
Carl is one of the countless majority of creators who do not earn enough from their art to make it their livelihood and yet dedicate themselves relentlessly to it. They harbour a purity of motivation far brighter than many of the minority, for whom success is the product of a professional patronage that has little to do with the innate and perpetual urge to write, and more to do with that person’s public profile. Their work may bring value, but the gold dust is more likely to be unearthed by those who hack away day after day in obscurity.
“I want to be fearless, to let passion fill the pages, alongside a wildness and an unpredictability that keep all on their toes (including me whilst writing it).”
So said Mr McGarrigle. And the fearlessness knew no fear; the passion flayed its tongue, the wildness wrecked the cage and the unpredictability was unexpected. Hence we have the unique.
The music reached out to them on many levels. It spoke to them of things both cherished and remembered – of yearnings and loss and sunlight – things disappeared, of things imagined and of things that never were. It spoke of love’s first recognition and of its final death, of first words spoken and of last promises made, of memories and memories upon memories – both imagined and real.The Talents, Chapter 25
It is as if Mr McG gathered all his favourite tick-box ingredients for a fictional stir-fry and whacked them into his wok. The cooking took a long time, however, as the meal has many courses. The second banquet is promised in a similar quantity and that two has been a slow cook. The tastiest dishes are often prepared that way.
… his foremost feeling was the faintworthy sensation, that came with new love, as it took its first breath within him – and without giving him any say in the matter – wrapped him up its tight embrace, unrelenting and deadly and joyous.The Talents, Chapter 25
I’m told that Talents 2 is imminent, but there’s still time to imbibe book 1. Your talent clock is still ticking. Grab the wok.
The Talents is available from https://www.amazon.co.uk/Talents-Carl-McGarrigle-ebook/dp/B093Z4YWMW
One thought on “Tick-Wok”