Sidekicks: The Music Of The Rending Of The Night by Kare Mois
This novel was the culmination of a series of experiments I made with dark fantasy and extreme horror. In ways large and small, it has informed everything I’ve written since.
As I’ve mentioned in my previous Sidekick posts, I use pseudonyms to publish work that doesn’t fit into the Robert Maas universe. This, the only novel I’ve published under the name Kare Mois, is in a different place altogether, and one to which I’ve never tried to return.
In fact, you can characterize my writing since Music as a conscious rejection of any pretensions of art in favor of simple, driven narratives with an unfussy writing style shoved as far into the background as possible.
In The Music Of The Rending Of The Night the writing style is firmly foreground: everything is immersed in an hallucinogenic swirl of words. Its style is angry, obscene, intoxicating, toxic.
Music was the second novel I published after Residuum, which was actually the next thing I wrote after finishing it. That was hard work, since Music had burned all writing out of me for a long period of time. As I posted in Adventures in composition, when I finally felt my way into Residuum I purposefully sought new and non-standard ways to write, ways that were as far from Music as possible.
It’s not among my earliest work. The first drafts of the Penny Maez novels Constant and The Billows, and my own novels Grand Funk Central and Hemisphere all precede it, and all can be seen as dry runs for the spiraling nightmare of Music.
Like Constant and The Billows, it features a female narrator. Four short stories from the same sequence, ‘Crossing The River,’ ‘Singles Night,’ ‘banged up in the black tower’ and ‘Borova Nightfall,’ are in my collection Born From Ash. At least one more novel written at the same time will follow.
Each of these stories is set against a mundane landscape, transformed through the perception of its protagonist into a world alien and threatening. Often they link to pagan mythology and English folk song. The women who tell these stories are generally abused girls of one kind or other who learn resilience, strength, and ultimately power, but do not gain physical freedom or redemption.
Though it has a male narrator, Grand Funk Central in particular nudges toward Music’s themes of grasping sexuality, drug-soaked desperation, and characters wrenched apart by incomprehensible emotions.
It’s impossible to say what niche the novel should occupy, for those who feel compelled to assign it a genre. You’d probably call it magic reality of the Angela Carter school, but each of the four chapters is different, and only one comes anywhere close to Carter’s style.
She does get a name-check in the text, though, conflated into Howard Carter, the man who discovered the tomb of Tutankhamen.
In a series of disturbing, flickering images, glimpses in the black, we witness my narrator Winnie grow and change in ten year leaps: from the innocent girl running in the eternal summer of a Cornish childhood to the beaten woman pounding through a wilderness of flashing neon and casual abuse.
We see the innumerable facets of Danny reflected in her eyes: the brother she loves, the partner she covets, the abuser she requires. Throughout, we find ourselves in the thrall of blood—that moment when the knife goes in, when the wound gapes open, just before the pain begins. That moment of pure, visceral shock.
For what’s love, after all, but a little loss of blood?
The roots of the novel lie in a period spent recuperating, after years of squalid turmoil, in the small cathedral city of Salisbury in southern England. There’s definitely a little of the medieval lurking in the text, particularly in its relatively benign first chapter, ‘A Skin Of My Own.’
There’s autobiography, too. Much of my formative experience with girls took place in pillboxes (the Second World War fortifications ranged all along the coast and inland) such as the ones that recur in Constant and The Billows. Indeed, like many children of the rural south of England, I spent my childhood in a landscape littered with memories of war.
The second chapter, ‘We Move Like A Virus Through The Deep Drugged Dawn,’ is preoccupied with hallucinogenic drugs. Arguably the bone room itself, to which the novel inexorably carries the reader, is merely a place of neverending bad trip of the kind I’d already explored in ‘Crossing The River.’
This whole chapter is a flashback to nights spent in the circus of the soul, down among that infernal machinery.
In the third chapter, ‘A Hundred Years Of Nanking,’ we are at the tail of an immense and only barely recognized back story.
The chapter is again set in a landscape I knew well: the urban squalor of grim northern-England inner city estates. You deadened the experience of living in Clore by mutilating yourself with a needle. In its way, ‘Nanking’ was my survivor’s tale.
Clore is a concrete derelict, the hulk of a multi-generational spaceship left adrift after a riot by the people who were there to form the lowest rung on its social ladder—the manufacturing class—and who had subsequently been abused, massacred, quarantined and abandoned.
I would return to this scenario, in a more standard narrative framework and under my own name, for my bitesize novel A Thousand Years Of Nanking, and its reimagining as Poems Found In The Wreckage Of A Multi-Generational Spaceship.
When I first wrote those three chapters, I intended that Music would contain other chapters of about the same length which would continue to shift Winnie forward, ten years at a time, into old age.
I never wrote a word of them. Instead, the last chapter ‘The Bone Room’ wrote itself in a single sitting: an abrupt punctuation mark that closed all possible doors on my narrative.
It does, in my opinion, turn the plot full circle, and suggest the redemption I had denied my protagonists in the other stories of this sequence. But Winnie herself only achieves it by proxy.
For all that, she is my favorite character in all my fiction. Winnie’s made of pure energy, fueling everything around her. With her brother at her side, hard metal armoring her soft flesh, she is literally invincible. Even as her world plunges into darkness, she learns to be fearless.
Some may see this novel as transgressive excess, but I think of it as the purest of all love stories.