Title: Sea of Hooks
Author: Lindsay Hill
Published in: November 2013
Jukebox: “The Great Gig in the Sky” by Pink Floyd has a complex backstory: the song started out as just an instrumental track. Then Alan Parsons brought in singer Clare Torry to layer her voice over the instrumentals. At first, she had a tough time understanding what the band wanted, but once it was suggested she think of herself as an instrument, magic happened. The moment when Torry begins singing is like an awakening, and Sea of Hooks has many of those moments.
This novel is an experiment. Can a story of a boy rise up out of the ashes of messed up dreams, one-liner revelations, and familiar metaphors? Can we understand a person through pieces and snippets randomly dispersed throughout the pages of this book, or do our minds only function and analyze in a neat, chronological order where everything is spelled out for us?
So one can see from those heavy questions above why it took me about two months to finish the novel. It was a not a comfortable read: lots of backtracking and scratching of the head. The entire novel is written in paragraphs, each with a title. Some have continuity, some are impossible to understand as anything but a stranger’s memory. But even though the entire novel is split up into messy stream-of-consciousness paragraphs, they are all connected as one larger story. Hooked together, one might say.
Despite the eventual tying together of all the paragraph’s topics, the novel’s fractured structure, among other things, ultimately prevents it from working as a cohesive entity. The traditional plot (yes, it’s there, if barely) is also boringly dramatic: alcoholic father + OCD/depressed mother = messed up childhood for Christopher, the main character. These characteristics are important and effective in a lot of other esteemed literature, but all I see in this set-up is the desire to make characters interesting by making them severely messed up. I know when a character is well-designed because I care about her/him/it (Barney, Arya Stark, Nick Fury). Sadly, I don’t really care about Christopher, or his parents. It’s an easy line to cross, balancing genuine characters and keeping readers interested.
Consequently, it’s better to think of Sea of Hooks as many wonderful yet disparate parts rather than a convincing story. Many of Lindsay Hill’s trains of thought are beautiful, not only for the ideas they engender but because Hill writes prose like poetry. Two of them stand out:
1. In the first half of the novel, there are several paragraphs called “Christopher Reading.” It’s never clear whether Christopher is autistic, dyslexic, or whether his mind just sees things differently, but it’s like he has so much imagination that he can’t read. Reading requires a certain amount of reining in your own imagination to follow the author’s path. Christopher lets his imagination ride off into the sunset and thus his mind is everywhere but the book in front of him:
He would pass through the page, barely brushing its sides as he fell through, and then he would come up a long way away in the teeming open water of thoughts and words and images and memories, and the little guided tour provided by the book was lost to him, but the Wonder Ocean was found.” (110)
2. The second train of thought, with paragraphs titled “The City of Messengers,” also deals with the inner workings of Christopher’s mind. As a boy, Christopher has a habit of collecting random trash: crumpled receipts, keys, and anything else he finds on the street. He collects these “messengers” because he believes that each object is contributing to a larger message. The problem is, Christopher never completely finds out what it is. Though this specific train of thought is very vague, I see Hill’s point: Christopher sees meaning in everything. Apparently he is an amazing bridge player and bond trader because of this unique “sight.” That’s why the novel had to be written in this bizarre paragraph fashion: the all-encompassing message that Christopher is always looking for is the same as Lindsay Hill’s goal in writing this book: every paragraph is a messenger with an individual message. All Hill hopes for is the possibility that his sea of messengers will give the reader one great big message at the end.
Well, I finished the book, and I don’t know what the message is. Maybe I didn’t read carefully enough. Or maybe Lindsay Hill hasn’t figured it out either.
There’s one statement later in the novel that describes the value of Sea of Hooks. In a paragraph called “You Can’t Walk the Sun With Your Fingers”, Christopher is looking at a box full of things belonging to a friend’s dad who disappeared and abandoned his family:
Many of the things were unremarkable, but mixed among them, many fine things shone, many very fine things, things very valuable and rare.
Sea of Hooks may not be a masterpiece, but the amount of abstract thinking in this novel is at least convincing. Maybe time will help bring Lindsay Hill and Christopher’s musings together.
Rating: 6 – okay, but it could be better: would recommend with qualifiers; many inconsistencies that raise my eyebrows.