Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Ghosts of the Desert by Ryan Ireland

Ghosts Of The Desert is an odd, psychedelic novel that has been compared by other reviewers to the work of Cormac McCarthy. I can certainly see the similarity and not just in the Navada desert setting. I'm a massive fan of Cormac McCarthy, but I particularly like his works outside of the Border Trilogy for which he's most famous. Sutre, Child of God, Blood Meridian, all have deeply flawed protagonists, often who are worse than anyone else featuring in the story, and Ghosts Of The Desert is of similar fare.

Norman is an anthropologist studying ghost towns and abandoned mines across the Navada desert. He runs afoul of a group of desert-dwelling outcasts led by Jacoby, an old man who appears imbued with equal parts mystical wisdom and psychotic madness. The group is part Manson family, part millenarian cult, and it's only because he begs for his life that Jacoby doesn't cut Norman down on the the spot. It's a decision which the latter comes at least in part to regret.

Norman is slowly inculcated into a life that simultaneously fascinates and repulses him. He's not held against his will as such, in fact at times Jacoby urges him to go, but he's a prisoner of geography, crossing the desert by foot likely to kill him. This isolation enables Jacoby to play with his mind, telling him at various points that the world has ended. 

But we quickly learn that Norman is far from an Angel and what's more Jacoby knows it. How he does so is one of the mysteries of the novel, Jacoby being something of a shaman figure. It also becomes apparent that while on the margins of society, the family and others like them perform some form of function for either organised crime or the government, murdering people lured to them by mysterious men in suits. They also murder the agents who are obviously marked by their employers for death. If this sounds somewhat confusing, it is meant to be. Like the McCarthy novels his work has been compared to, Ghosts Of The Desert leaves much to the readers interpretation and it is never entirely clear what is real and what is the product of Norman's fevered imagination and/or Jacoby's delusional dissemination. 

Ghosts Of The Desert isn't the easiest read. In some places it's heavy going, the violence at points visceral and graphic, and there are disturbing scenes of rape and sexual violence. This is not a novel for the faint hearted. Having said all that, it is a powerful and poignant tale of one man's descent into life on the peripheries of human civilisation and if you have the stomach it's enormously rewarding.

Thanks to Real Readers for the ARC.

I would award this 5 out of 5 stars

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