The Norfolk Mace
Like his main character, Ciro, Jerry Hooper’s language balances and eases the reader between two worlds; between the fragrant and viscerally fantastic and a harsh, familiar yet sterile modernity. Rather than forcing his audience into a new world, Hooper maintains an inviting hold on both the uncanny, the odd, and the things we know. Amidst florid, rich language there is the ordinary – just there, in our view and never out of place, the things we take for granted, the things we know and rely on – but buried and surrounded by Hooper’s language. There were moments when I became lost in Hooper’s delicious use of words – lapping up the prose like honeysuckle – but never for the detriment of plot or character. At the crux of The Norfolk Mace is a character caught tenuously between what he knows and must discover; so too is the reader caught between what we know and what we could see, between a fantastical sense of detail, in the delicate use of language to call one’s attention viscerally to the details another author would have ignored or described clumsily, and the harsh realities that Ciro’s story tells. There is something in his descriptions that evoke a sense of timelessness and the ancient simultaneously. It has been a long while since a novel evoked my imagination and sense of wonder as much as this did. I wish I could carry in my pocket someone to narrate my own, mundane world with such a sense of wonder and exoticism.
Hooper’s novel is filled to the brim with cultural references and an eye for the mythical. In one scene, the narration refers to Gilgamesh and Enkidu (two of my favorite epic heroes from ancient traditions), in another Hercules is slyly mentioned. Along with his prose, Hooper’s narrative refers time and again to the Ancient, the Epic, the Heroic, always placing his own characters among the Great and Powerful. In another novel, this move would seem brash and inelegant, the author stroking his own ego, not so in this case. These shrewd and slippery references to the mythical only add to the general sense of wonder and the exotic in the narrative, while also rewarding the reader aware of the images these references will evoke – adding but never detracting or distracting from the full and interesting characters.
Definitely a novel I will recommend – to those whom I know share my sense of wonder and love of words.
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