Book review: The Quarantined City by James Everington

“The Quarantined City is a novel that dares to jump into the rabbit hole head first and delights in the potions it finds down there.”

The Quarantined City was initially designed as a monthly serial in 2015, as a refreshing Dickensian nod in the Kindle age. Readers waited patiently for the final instalments. Unfortunately, after the release of the fourth chapbook the publisher ran into trouble. James pulled the book and that could have been that.

Thankfully, Infinty Plus came along and knew this novel was too good to be quarantined from Everington’s fanbase. This story could have easily been a surreal segment from the novel itself. Because The Quarantined City is essentially a book about how fiction has the ability to change everything. It changes us and the world around us. While this is usually a shift in perception after being shown a new angle by a writer, for the protagonist Fellowes it’s a reality. The city he lives in changes in small and often fundamental ways each time he reads a short story by the elusive author Boursier. Each Part contains one of these stories, indeed they are all titled after the Boursier tale within.

As a whole the novel could be viewed as a portmanteau collection with the Fellowes story as the wraparound. Except it’s almost as though the short stories substitute the frame and the changing city is the real short story collection. How each reader views this will no doubt be different. But either way Everington has managed to pull off something unique in this format.

The characters in the novel are deeply drawn, even the minor players. The bookseller is so weird, yet so roundly formed you can’t help but enjoy his strangeness. The child ghost that creeps through Fellowes house, unnerving yet never haunting, is a truly unsettling character. Then there’s Georgia his alcoholic friend, the beautiful waitress he lusts after and members of an esoteric protest group. These echo like the inhabitants of that wonderful land of Oz where the dreamlike characters may be feverish reflections of real people and real animals outside of the nightmare. All of whom add to the richness and movement of the stories; while serving as anchors that sway in a shifting ocean flashed by pulsars rather than lighthouses. The city, the physical shifts and historical revisionism are beautifully crafted in this method. One criticism could be that the parts sometimes, though rarely, read as repetition. Though once the novel is finished you realise this is not an accident or an editorial oversight, it’s part of the whole plot. These loops are not only intentional; they are the foundation of the whole. It’s as though the novel has been remixed in a studio with Kafka on the decks, Terry Gilliam shooting the video and Sartre splicing the tape like paper.

One could view the novel as an allegory of our times. Desperate isolation, relentless shifts in perception, the truth no longer a constant, the change in currency, geographical and cultural identity are themes that prick against the skin when reading.  This is a novel that talks about people trapped inside a world by politicians. A post-Brexit, pre-Trump world of uncertainty and fear.

The Boursier stories contained in each part only pushes the reader deeper into this indeterminate world. They range from mind bending tales to straightforward fables. Yet each one leaves the reader feeling dizzy in a wash of vertigo. This adds depth to Fellowes own journey as the effect is one of constant shifts and frequency loops. You’d be forgiven if you needed to put down the book and check everything was the same in your own world after reading these inner stories. Though that would be difficult as The Quarantined City is a Superglue book- once you pick it up it’s difficult to put down.

The Quarantined City is a novel that dares to jump into the rabbit hole head first and delights in the potions it finds down there. It’s complex, layered and above all thoroughly enjoyable. James Everington used to be a writer to look out for. Now he’s one you dare not miss.


Publisher: Infinity Plus Books
Paperback: (244 pp)
Release Date: 5 Jul 2016

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