“I come here,” the Weirdmonger roared, “to sell Weirds, and Weirds are merely Words that materialize into all sorts of true existence the moment I release them from between my lips…”
I’d put off reading this book, concerned that it would be over my head, or that I’d see nothing but waffle. I was pleased to discover that the former was only partly the case, the latter not at all.
This isn’t a traditional story, it’s more a book of wordplay. It does have structure and plot, of course, but I’d describe it more as an album of exquisitely linked ideas and visions, almost presented as a linguistic piece of art. But is it any good? While I was often lost with the narrative thread, the text is so rich that it satisfied an itch I didn’t even know I had.
It would be difficult and unecessary to break down the plot, but I’ll briefly mention the characters. First we meet the recently hospitalised Gregory Mummerset, a sufferer of the fantastic dream-sickness, and his girlfriend Suzie. There’s a Victorian cat-meat vendor called Blasphemy Fitzworth, and Modal Morales, a black rosette-wearing clown with the Circus of the Tourettes. And not to forget Padgett Weggs, a homeless man who just might be writing this story in his head.
We follow their entwining adventures, but the essence of Weirdtongue lies in the metaphors, the tricks with language and rhyme, the narrative interjections. I was going to give a few examples, but there are too many to choose from, and to pull them from context would lessen the accumulative effect.
The concepts here are intricate, sometimes lucid, other times baffling: themes of identity, reality and the transcience of memory. The Glistenberry Romance of the subtitle refers to a parallel of the Glastonbury festival, and this element is evocative and contains some rather poignant scenes between the characters, which is something I wasn’t expecting.
Reading this book made me feel tired but refreshed, almost like the endorphin rush of a work-out, which is probably because that’s exactly what it is. Weirdtongue certainly demands patience and effort from the reader, but plenty of realistic and sometimes amusing dialogue balances the semantic exuberance. D.F. Lewis is an extraordinary narrator and storyteller, and one is swept away by the feast of words, or weirds as the Weirdmonger itself would call them: the nemophile wordsmith who ties the chapters together.
At times I felt frustrated, and found myself becoming lost in the ever-changing textures, not to mention needing to reach for a dictionary. This author doesn’t pause to let the stragglers catch up. But I pressed on and found that such moments just heightened the rewards, and the whole experience just left me wanting more. I intend to read it again as I suspect there are nuances of fantasy and humour that were missed (or misunderstood) the first time around.
It is quite short in length, but this is balanced by the time it takes to read it, and a longer work of this type would have been imposing. After all, you don’t sprint through the Louvre. You amble, pausing to reflect and analyse the layers, and should you find yourself confused or lost, you can just shrug, sit back and bask in the deeply colourful wonderland of language that D.F. Lewis has presented.
Weirdtongue is very immersive and subjective: I don’t believe that any two people would read it and have the same experience. It’s certainly not for everyone, and there will be those who actively dislike it. But if my attempt to review it has piqued your interest, then perhaps give it a shot. This peculiar and elusively satisfying book deserves it, and so do you.