Colony

Now it was time to prepare for the escape. To jettison everything that wasn’t needed. Always a sense of anguish with every departure, however desired. And always an urge to strip himself of everything but the essential, as if to counter some inner deadweight.

~ Colony, by Hugo Wilcken

A few months back the world’s most dedicated book blogger reviewed what he called an “exceptional” novel and began a mini-campaign to lift it from unjust obscurity. That book was, you might have guessed, Colony, and in the process of convincing me to buy a copy he misrepresented it as a thriller (I’m doing the misrepresenting now, that was a ludicrously erronious accusation I just made). However, he certainly didn’t deceive regarding its quality – and in a way he didn’t misrepresent it at all.

A criminal is dispatched to a primitive colonial penitentiary and we are sent with him. He survives the harsh journey, survives his harsh bedfellows, survives the pitfalls that lie beneath dangerous dreams of escape by ignoring them as best he can, and is rewarded with the possibility of more than merely survival, a chance to create another life for himself. But at that very point of critical balance, he begins to listen to the dreams again, follows and is claimed by them, and can only escape into them ever further.

Colony didn’t strike me so much as a thriller as what I think I’ll call a fascinator – but it’s a fine line between them and I’ll illustrate with an example. Although the comparisons previously drawn have included Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now, the thing this most connected with for me was David Lynch’s Lost Highway. In the rough structure, and the theme of escape from an alienating environment at uncommonly high cost; dissociative externalising of pitiable weakness or violent urges into others; the compulsion of sex, and the loss of control to an apparently frail but ultimately dominant female figure; and most obviously, there is the progressive fracturing of personality and reality, the unsettling repetitions and parallels between them, the distressing distortions as some aspect of reality batters at the door. Finally Colony bucks my comparison, not coming full circle but instead pushing through to somewhere else; but what interests me is that, in my opinion, Lost Highway isn’t a thriller either, though it skates very close to being one. It does have the trappings of a thriller, but what it is is something different – and that’s what I think it shares with Colony.

There wasn’t much left to him now that was extraneous. He stuffed some banknotes into his back pocket, and put the rest of his money and bank orders into a canvas bag. He’d give it all to the woman. She needed it more than he did; he could always find a way to make money. But he also had a sense of foreboding. A feeling that something would go wrong. That they wouldn’t be escaping after all. Not together, in any case. He picked up his journal, and put that into the bag too.

~ Colony, by Hugo Wilcken

This second excerpt follows directly from the first, and in the style throughout there is no separation between introspection and action to be found, nor between the realities we pass through. Wilcken’s prose is as clear and clean and refreshing as the world he describes with it is stifling and obscured, and the one highlights the other to perfection. He doesn’t force explanatory detail upon us in a rush, but gets to all in time and layers up a powerful and authentic environment that remains sound even as the walls start coming down. He goes about the business of describing the needed delusion, the protective escape, the fabrication that has to convince the fabricator, and succeeds.

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