The main problem about Rob Doyle’s book is deciding whether it is a novel or an episodic essay on recreational drugs; that the narrator is named Rob seems to suggest the latter interpretation. The opening chapter describes the harvesting of magic mushrooms in Dublin’s Phoenix Park and instructs the reader on their use and effects. Later chapters deal with MDMA, ketamine, cocaine, acid, ayahuasca and LSD. Not really fiction, you might think.
Individual segments are set in places like Dublin, Paris, Zagreb, Berlin, Barcelona, Sicily, Bogota and Rosslare Harbour. The excuse for visiting many of these locations is because of their association with writers like Bataille, Breton, Cioran, Bolao. And if, like this reviewer, you aren’t familiar with those, then you are a hick.
In one of his stints in Paris, the author meets a group of tourists, who “didn’t want to know about this wanker Georges Bataille, and who could blame them?” This after he has wearied his readers with 25 pages of his pilgrimage following the life and work of the said Bataille. And talking about the collective noun he uses to define Mr B, it fits also an activity to which Rob devotes some of his time, as reaction to porn or to some young woman who is immune to his charms. It’s a novel, stupid; it’s fiction, he’s making it up.
The book has lots of characters who have weird dreams. That these usually accompany or follow a drug binge may be understandable and a warning to the rest of us. Perhaps it’s not a novel after all, but a series of chapters taken from the experience of drugs or a scanning of the writings of those who have.
The final chapter is devoted to the drug DMT. A character named Matt asked his psychoanalyst if he had ever heard of DMT or ayahuasca. When the analyst admitted that he hadn’t, “to Matt, this smacked of intellectual parochialism and a crashing incuriosity”. The reader seems to be treated with similar disdain. Certainly, this reviewer felt like a Boomer lost in a modern world that, as Shakespeare put it, “would be better supplied when I have made it empty”. We are being preached at, told how stupidly backward we are, how we are in the way of progress. But then you wonder – perhaps this is a novel and the author is just having a laugh. In the end you feel that Threshold is a collection of drunken, drug-induced ramblings, sometimes followed by copious effluxions of morning-after purges. “What I write about other writers, other artists,” Rob says at one stage, “I’m writing about myself, and when I write about myself, I’m writing about the universe.” If you can empathise with that conceit, there will be plenty for you because, polished prose notwithstanding, it is a tedious read.
- Threshold, by Rob Doyle. Bloomsbury. $29.99.