Sheenagh Pugh (sheenaghpugh) wrote,
Sheenagh Pugh

Review of Psycho Samaritan by Leon A C Qualls pub. Mercurial Press (Kindle)

"This is not the time for self-delusion" says our protagonist, about 267 pages too late for his own good. This is a first novel with a very ambitious unreliable narrator. There are clues scattered from early on to suggest that Lucas, who lives alone and spends an unhealthy amount of time online, may not be seeing things exactly as they are. But not until halfway through the novel did we get a really big reveal, which genuinely took me by surprise and was, I think, very subtly managed. It isn't easy, when writing in first person, to convey that the eyes through which we are seeing are themselves deluded; it has to be done, as it is here, by recording the reactions of others who do see clearly, but though the reader must get the point, the protagonist-narrator must not, and this failure must be credible.

I must choose quotes carefully, because even after we realise that events inside Lucas's head do not tally with those in the real world, we only gradually become aware of just how far they diverge, and I don't want to give away too much. Lucas is Glaswegian and appropriately gallus; his dry, deadpan voice often engaging:

"I consider myself a patron of the arts. One time I visited the Art Galleries—as normal people call it, it’s officially called Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum—with my cousin, and they had a box asking for donations, a recommended £3. I was more than happy with my visit having seen a stuffed elephant, and was about to oblige the coffers when my cousin said, You know that’s the price of a pint around here? Bloody West End. A whole pint. I put the money back in my pocket. Saving the art world could wait."

Also, like most delusional people, Lucas is not delusional all the time – in fact much of the book's interest derives from our uncertainty as to when he is and is not seeing clearly. When he observes "Graeme’s probably dead because Kenny can’t forgive him for spitting all over his face while chatting on a night out drinking. Men have died for less", it maybe takes the reader a few seconds to realise that this last sentence is all too true: the outside world may be less delusional than Lucas but it isn't all that sane, either.

I won't lie: quite apart from violence there are an awful lot of bodily fluids in this book, one way and another, and if you need your protagonists to be slim, handsome and hygienic, this isn't the novel for you. But Lucas, loser though he may be, is not impossible to feel for, and I found the gradual unfolding of the disconnect between reality and his vision of it consistently intriguing. To tackle (and so adeptly) such an advanced narrative technique in a first novel shows a commendable ambition. Right now, although there might possibly be a print edition later (in which case some typos could usefully be removed), this is only available in Kindle – here's a link. Give it a go.
Tags: book reviews, novels
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