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The Miniature Man

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by r. muir


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ISBN 0 9545759 4 6
snowbooks, 2005
Retail price £7.99

I spent my holiday this year, cruising on the Llangollen Canal. I took this book with me. Thus I spent a lot of my time moving slowly over water with the sun shining on me and a lot of my time in a Sanitarium during Winter, inside the minds of two badly damaged individuals, and a couple of nuns who were caring for, treating, interacting with them. Whilst these two geographies might not seem to fit well, they in fact complemented each other perfectly.

The vast bulk of The Miniature Man takes place in the St Francis Sanitarium, which is run by nuns. The two main patients are Julian Papp, who is an albino chess ace who has developed epilepsy and lost his almost supernatural chess domination, and Marcy, who is an amnesiac sent to the Sanitarium after a horrific gang-rape. At the Sanitarium are the nuns who are represented in the novel by Sister ZoŽ (I thought nuns always adopted the name of a Saint when they took their orders? Who was Saint ZoŽ, the Patron Saint of Discos?), who is the psychologist in charge and Sister Dana who looks after Marcy and who, in the course of the novel, gets rather possessive of and lusts after Marcy.

The above makes this sound a rather dour, uninteresting book. It is assuredly not! muir has written here an absorbing book with richly painted characters and a totally convincing, while being original, scenario.

Did I mention chess? This is a chess manual in that the book consists of two interlocking chess games; one between Julian and Marcy and the other, and more obvious, between Julian and ZoŽ. This latter is represented throughout the book with depictions of a chess board and the symbols for the moves. While this could have been an annoying distraction from the written story, I did not find it such. I found the game itself absorbing and had no difficulty at all integrating it with the story.

muir almost seems to revel in creating characters to dislike, and both Julian and Dana fit the criteria. He doesn’t succeed however. I found Julian very easy to empathise with, the cruel intelligence of his mouth being fully understandable as we grew to know him more and even Dana with her selfishness, was perfectly understandable in context. Sorry r., I liked these people!

I haven’t said much about Marcy, whose re-awakening is a main theme of the book. She and her situation are very powerfully depicted and when, towards the end of the book, we get the gang rape vividly shown through the dialogue of the rapists, our feelings for her are at their highest and we are totally involved in her struggle.

This is the second novel I’ve read lately containing an albino. The first was the hugely successful and totally dreadful Da Vinci Code. There he was albino as clichť, here he is albino as rounded character. I have no hopes of muir reaching Brown’s sales figures, but I hope he gets a measure of the acclaim he deserves as a fine novelist.

Open Book

Review by Chris Williams