‘the spiral is the spiritual circle: a circle set free’
Dodo Ink’s debut title, Dodge and Burn by Seraphina Madsen sets an exciting precedent for the press’s direction. Longlisted for the inaugural Republic of Consciousness Prize 2017, this is a magical-realist psychedelic road-trip novel with a strong and unconventional narrative voice. With a strong feminine voice, Madsen writes in a genre usually dominated by male writers such as Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Hunter S. Thomson and Carlos Casteneda. From the outset it’s difficult to pin down the locus of reality in Eugenie (Genie) Lund’s tale, as we’re told that her mother’s death was caused by killer bees and Genie and her twin sister Camille have been held against their will by the sinister psychic researcher Dr Vargas. Everything that happens as Genie grows up and attempts to piece her life back together is beyond the bounds of the ordinary, including drinking daily doses of a poisonous hemlock ‘Pan’s Elixir’, developing ‘jungle sensitivity’ in which all physical senses become acutely amplified, frequent visions of a hunter called Deadeye, and an uncanny skill at poker. When Camille disappears, Genie naturally wonders whether there must be a supernatural reason for the disappearance:
‘I was suddenly struck with the thought that perhaps the rituals, potions, and practices we had been following had taken a turn. Had she managed the sophisticated manoeuvre of displacing herself in space and time? Yes, I believed, it was certainly possible that Camille had disappeared and taken all physical evidence of her existence with her only to resurface in another location.’
Traveling across Europe and North America in search of Camille, Genie meets and marries the Venus Acid Boy, Benoît, a raver and DJ with a passion for psychedelic substances. The novel intersperses extracts from Genie’s journal with news articles and third-person narration to weave and tangle the full-throttle account of their journey through this world, the inner world, and the other-world on a quest to retrieve Camille. Echoes of the Persephone myth add structural dynamics to this book, only to be subverted as the narrative draws towards its conclusion.
This is a novel that really resonated deeply with me. I loved the psychic and psychedelic magical-realities created by Madsen, and felt excited by the female perspective on the intoxicating acid-fuelled road trip. Above all, Genie’s matter-of-fact forays into the other-world gave credence and weight to their place within this narrative and, by extension, to their place for exploration within the everyday realities that we call ‘life’. The combined skill of Madsen’s gift for storytelling and her meticulous research into occult and spiritual practices means that, however far-fetched things might seem to get within this story, its events remain credible in the magically-infused-reality of Genie’s world.
‘Camille and I had noticed that in certain moments during our meditations we would be popped into a hologram world where everything, including ourselves, was transparent, our differentiations delineated by rainbow shimmers.’
Madsen does, however, leave Genie’s world open to question throughout the novel, and the novel’s literary weight is perhaps enhanced by its ability to be read simultaneously from multiple perspectives: not all readers will take from it the same assurances as I did.
‘In our cabin we discovered that time was not as immutable as Dr Vargas had led us to believe. […] It had a yielding and compliant nature and could vanish, only to reappear with alternating shapes, courses, and rhythms.’
The novel experiments with temporality to create a spiraling narrative that is not quite circular and not quite linear. It is the circle set free. Neither a narrative of clear and direct linear progression nor a futilely circular narrative returning to a point of stasis from which it began, the text weaves and spirals in a fluidity of forward and backward motion with lateral shifts and multidimensional resonances. This enables the narrative to move in multiple directions while retaining a breathless momentum that propels the story towards the possibility of future resolution. This is a book that I couldn’t put down but didn’t want to finish. Circling and spiraling in and out of psychic, psychedelic and mundane consciousness, seamlessly intermingling past, present and future, life and death, this novel is described as a ‘Moebius strip of indistinguishable fantasy and reality’, questioning where we might draw the line between one thing and the other, and perhaps suggesting that such lines may not always be entirely necessary.
‘Had Camille and I spiralled out of the circle of life on Earth?’
Seraphina Madsen brings an exciting new voice to experimental literary practice, and as Dodo Ink’s first published title it bodes well for the press’s future that its risk-taking passion for fiercely original, imaginative fiction has shown such a promising start. A novel that certainly intends to challenge and expand our definition of ‘consciousness’, Dodge and Burn has been long listed for the Republic of Consciousness Prize: the winner of which will be announced in March 2017*.
About the Publisher:
Dodo Ink is an independent publishing company based in the UK. Founded by author Sam Mills (The Quiddity of Will Self, Corsair, 2012), digital publishing and marketing specialist Alex Spears, and reviewer Thom Cuell, Dodo Ink publishes original fiction, with a focus on risk-taking, imaginative novels. Aiming to publish three novels per year, Dodo Ink’s first publication was Seraphina Madsen’s Dodge and Burn in July 2016.
Review by Sally-Shakti Willow
Sally-Shakti Willow is researching for a practice-based PhD in utopian poetics and experimental writing at the University of Westminster, where she also works as research assistant for the Contemporary Small Press. Sally’s poetry is included in the #NousSommesParis anthology from Eyewear Books; the experimental collection The Unfinished Dream by Sally-Shakti Willow and Joe Evans was published by Sad Press in October 2016. @willowwriting
*The Contemporary Small Press is celebrating the first ever Republic of Consciousness Prize for small presses by reviewing a range of titles from the long- and short-lists throughout early 2017. The Republic of Consciousness Prize was established by writer Neil Griffiths to support and reward adventurous new fiction published by small presses in the UK and Ireland. The judges have selected some of the most exciting and innovative new fiction to highlight through their long- and short-lists, demonstrating the breadth and depth of high-quality literary fiction currently being published by small and independent presses. The winner will be announced at an award-ceremony held in conjunction with the Contemporary Small Press at the University of Westminster in March.