Thursday, 9 June 2011

Wooden Heart by Martin Day

Plot: The Doctor and Martha land on a derelict prison hanging in a deserted area of space by pick up life signs on board. As they explore they discover a stretch of woodland and a village existing right at the heart of the ship…

Mockney Dude: For the NSAs it is nice to have a prologue that isn’t the Doctor and his companion dancing merrily around the console, for a change they are no where to be seen until the first chapter. Does the Doctor tell the truth or deliberately escalate the conversation into the realms of the absurd? He is a fount of useless information! He walks in big confident steps, steps that want to march into the future and see what’s there, used to living his life at great speed. He dresses in a subdued manner as if wishing to wear nothing that would detract from the expressive force of his personality. From time to time the Doctor needed a human compass to live by. Does the Doctor precipitate chaos or is he simply drawn to it? He matured late, like a fine wine. Even the Doctor has had more than enough of monsters during this adventure. He is more of a hands on teacher that shows you things and lets you make up your own mind. When he confronts the creature skulking about the ship it tugs at his past, into the things he has endured and the things he has had to do, desperate to have the darker side of him. He is infuriating and wonderful and frustrating all at the same time.

Marvellous Martha: Martha enjoys the moments without the Doctor as well, the pauses for breath and some time to take it all in. The events of her life since she had met him has threatened to wash her away completely and sometimes she wishes they could have the moments of beauty without the monsters all the time. Martha means ‘mistress of the house.’ Martha has been on a package holiday to Ibiza! I was very pleased to see Martha turn away from the Doctor and his unfeeling discussion of the people, reminding him of his responsibilities to save everybody. She knows her own mind and I like that that is brought to the fore. They might be archetypes but they have developed and evolved and are a community now. Martha’s need to relieve the suffering of those around even if they aren’t real is touching. Her great grandmother is a businesslike shrivelled old bean of a woman who knows her own mind.

Twists: The prologue straight away suggests that this is going to be deeper than your standard NSA with the awful realisation of losing a child and the haunting suggestion that they will stay forever young in your mind and never grow old. The Doctor makes the aspersion that it is easy to think of the cosmos full of planets and stars when so much of it is actually empty. The location is pleasingly grim and nasty, a prison in space but more like a mausoleum full of bodies now. A stretch of forest in the middle of the ship is a great idea, it might have been nabbed from Paul Finch’s Leviathan unmade tale and was also used in Flesh and Stone but regardless the mystery of why it is here is what generates much tension in this book and Day gives it its most polished outing. If it is an illusion it is a breathtaking one but there is no denying that when the Doctor and Martha landed on the spaceship there was no village, forest or mountains there. There’s a moment where the Doctor steps into a bear trap and it closes around his foot, leaking blood. Children are disappearing from the village and if they are return it is said the village will be destroyed. Day spends some time discussing the nature of reality, suggesting that we create our own personal universe by the evidence of our own eyes and when we sleep that universe blinks out of existence. Martha and Saul are attacked by a truly grotesque creature in a sequence that feels really fast paced and furious – not an easy feat to pull off in a novel. What if the land and the people are one? What if when all the people go to sleep everything else switches off and the whole world stops? If the Castor switches back to night mode whatever is maintaining this world will turn off until morning. There is also the suggestion that the Doctor and Martha go round and round in the forest because the next section of this world isn’t created yet. I thought the moment when Shiga stepped out of the mist to tell her that she lost him to drink long before she was lost to him really haunting. ‘You can change the world with a jolly good map!’ – very true. I remember the first time I read this book the fog shrouded village gave me nightmares, blank lifeless children stepping out of the mist. If there is only so much memory to this world perhaps the creatures are there to stop you venturing any further than actually exists. Thom returns and tells Petr that Saul is his real father in an unexpected twist that shocks Martha as much as the reader. The heart of the Castor contains its ultimate prisoner and its ultimate experiment. A creature that was captured and tortured, taking people of unspeakable evil (the prisoners) and taming them, sucking out all of their bad emotions. It tried to expel that evil and inadvertently created the shadow creature which tore through the facility and killed everybody. The creature created the village as a free place where it could explore, analyse and observe the humanity it had experienced. The children were vanishing because it was running out of energy to maintain the world and they were the greatest drain. The Dazai convincing the creature to live is akin to a subject giving hope to God.

Result: Extremely well written, this is one of the most elegant novels of later years. Martin Day starts with the premise of the village appearing in the ship and manages to maintain the mystery of how and why this ages old civilisation has suddenly come into being throughout. His prose is accessible but sensuous and there are some moments of action that prove to be page turning. For a cast of people who apparently aren’t real the characters from the village are some of the most defined and realistic in the range. Wooden Heart handles some weighty themes from losing a child, the nature of reality and whether the evil is a process of nature or nurture but it never feels like a lecture. This is the NSA I would recommend to readers of the NA/EDAs, a very pleasing mystery with lots of thoughtful moments: 8/10

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