The Hinterland of Threat: Martin John by Anakana Schofield

martin-john“The Dentist’s waiting room shaped Martin John’s life. A simple room, nothing to suggest it contained the almighty power it did.”

I have a lot of thoughts about this book. The first: I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes the Giller. The second: I don’t think I’ll ever read it again.

From the first page, we find ourselves knee-deep in a strange head: Martin John, security guard, Eurovision Song Contest enthusiast. He is wary of words that start with P, suspicious that his upstairs tenant has hired people to spy on him, obsessive about completing circuits and getting his daily newspaper. Stylistically, it’s similar Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time or Miranda July’s The First Bad Man; it’s immediately obvious that Martin John’s brain is not wired in a familiar way.

At first, Martin John is a sympathetic character: scattered, afraid, and misunderstood.

He quickly becomes ominous.

You see, Martin John is what you might call a serial molester.

Schofield approaches this fact so quietly, so obliquely, that it stares you in the face before you even saw it coming. Martin John’s thoughts are shifty and fragmented, and he’s not even sure of what he’s done – so how can the reader even begin to root out the truth?

Martin John excerpt

As you might guess, this makes Martin John a difficult book to read. He punches a woman in the vagina. He pours a kettle of boiling water on his genitals. His mother ties him to a chair when she leaves the house so he won’t get into trouble while she’s gone.

Any sympathetic feelings you might have for this character quickly become horrifying – you’ve been tricked into feeling sorry for a man who flashes strangers on the subway, who no longer trusts himself to rent his spare room to women.

And yet, somehow, Martin John remains sympathetic, and here Schofield strikes a masterful – and disturbing – balance. After all, the reader’s conflicted feelings are mirrored by Martin John’s own; there is a small part of him that wants to stop, that can’t bear to think that “harm will be done.”

In many ways I’m still not quite sure how I feel about it. I don’t think I’ll ever read anything quite like it again, because I don’t know that anything quite like it has been written before. I’m still mulling it over in the back of my head, chewing on it like a piece of gristle.

One thing, at least, is clear: this novel has guts.

And it may very well take the Giller.


One thought on “The Hinterland of Threat: Martin John by Anakana Schofield

  1. Pingback: The best releases of 2015 (feat. The Cascade) | Bayrock, Bookrock

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