Ray Robinson’s debut novel Electricity was one of the best things I read this year … until I read his second novel The Man Without.
Electricity has a superb heroine in Lily – a severe epileptic who was abused and in care as a child. The novel follows her quest to find her lost brother Mikey. The text buzzes and hums around her as we find out what it’s like to suffer a fit and how the condition rules her life. The language is direct and doesn’t pull any punches, but we’re with Lily all the way on her as she searches for the family she’s never had.
The Man Without has many similarities and the language is equally direct. Right at the start of the novel, we see that the hero Antony is trying to sort himself out after a near suicide attempt. Antony also has a childhood of abuse, a father he never knew and a mother who doesn’t appear to have had a maternal bone in her body.
Now in his twenties, this has left him with some challenging rather Oedipal emotions and dangerous sexual fantasies, we get the slightest hint of what’s to come at the start of the second chapter:
Wrapped in a silk kimono and twisting helix of smoke, he flicked through the new copy of Harper’s until he found one: a model with a similar pair.
Veils are gradually lifted until the full effects of Antony’s problems are revealed. Prepare to be shocked, but this merely compels you to read on, and hope that he pulls through.
Contrasted against his own problems are those experienced in his job – as a Mental Health Carer. This is particularly expressed in his relationship with one patient, Kenneth – a former vicar suffering from total amnesia and personality change, and suffering from deteriorating relationships with his family that he can’t remember. The exchanges between Antony and Kenneth are funny and touching, but reinforce the loss of family that is the central theme of the novel. What Antony the professional carer really needs is a family to care for him …
This novel was stunning – read it (and Electricity too).