Sunday 30 October 2022

Hangdog Souls by Marc Joan


Hangdog Souls

by Marc Joan

Marc Joan was brought up in South India, which probably explains the authentic, detailed and lush descriptions in his novel Hangdog Souls, set, as the book blurb explains, “in the Dravidian heartlands of South India – and in a blurred edgeland where alternative realities elide”.   

The novel is made up of interlinked segments which span a three-century timeline, from the Kingdom of Mysore in 1799, where an Englishman on the run seeks safety for himself and his family amidst political turmoil, to the more-or-less-near-future (2070), where Chandry John, an astrophysicist in an India that has now become a technological superpower, is conducting experiments which combine cutting-edge particle physics with something much darker.

Some of the segments of Hangdog Souls could easily be enjoyed as self-standing narratives. Indeed, the final “Acknowledgements” section explains that five of the chapters are revised versions of earlier shorter works, most notably “Five Garlands”, which reworks Marc Joan’s highly acclaimed novelette The Speckled God.  There are common elements however which link these narratives together and hearken back to the opening segment.  One of these is the elusive figure of the “Englishman”.  We first meet him as a flawed but ultimately tragic figure who, in a desperate attempt to save his life, his family and the eucalyptus plantation through which he earns a living, enters into a Faustian pact with an ageing necromancer.  This damns him into a guilt-ridden immortality on this earth, where he is obliged to observe and participate in other personal tragedies until he can, hopefully, win his release from this dark cycle.  There are also thematic “hooks” – each of the sections involves characters who are burdened by regret and who seek absolution through an act which can balance the value of the life of an innocent victim.      

The result is a complex and wildly ambitious novel which makes no apologies for bringing together contrasting genres and influences – from historical fiction to the Gothic, from intergenerational family drama to “realist” fiction, from supernatural horror to sci-fi, all infused with elements of philosophy, myth and spiritualism and conveyed in rich and beautiful prose.  

Hangdog Souls is quite unlike other novels I have read recently. If I were pressed by an intrigued potential reader to compare it to other novels, just to give an idea of its “feel”, two books come to mind:  David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas with which it shares its polystylistic, segment-based approach and Sarah Perry’s Melmoth, which also features a Faustian or “Wandering Jew” figure in the context of heavily metaphysical Gothic novel.  But it must be said Marc Joan is also very much his own man.  Kudos to independent publisher Deixis Press, purveyor of “fiction with a dark shadow”, for bringing to life Joan’s original vision.      

    Kindle Edition

    July 27, 2022 by Deixis Press

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