Reviewed by Ross Murray
Michael Dhillon’s self-published The Cuckoo Parchment and the Dyke is a well-written, but flawed book.
Tristan Jarry is the most famous artist in the world but a recluse who has been rarely sighted in public. Angelique Burr, the estranged stepdaughter of the US President, is gifted the task of doing Tristan’s first interview in over a decade. However the offer of the interview is soon revealed to be Angelique’s elaborate kidnapping, staged by Tristan.
The narrative swaps between accounts of Tristan’s early years (his escape from a death camp; his early years studying art living under a brutal totalitarian regime) to Angelique’s kidnapping in the present.
While keeping one step ahead of authorities, Tristan and his accomplices stage performance art pieces around the world, it seems specifically for Angelique, until Tristan reveals the most elaborately planned piece of performance art ever devised. Inspired by the Dada non-art non-movement, Tristan intends to start a revolution to free the world’s imagination.
Dhillon sets up an interesting juxtaposition between the young, beautiful, but dispassionate Angelique against the old, expressionless (he suffers from myasthenia), and manic Tristan. These are well-written and engaging characters with contradictions and personality conflicts. Tristan is an enigmatic figure who could do anything with his millions of dollars, but he chooses to do something, which is to attempt a monumental change of society through art. Angelique trades on her looks but she has received little to nothing for those trades. Angelique’s life has been long series of predominantly meaningless sexual encounters. She has never really engaged with anything and is forced by Tristan to confront things about herself she has pushed away.
Unfortunately Angelique’s passivity is a problem. She spends a lot of time drugged by Tristan being hauled around the world. While we’re shown on numerous occasions of her sexual dispassion and dysfunctionality, she fails to overcome this history. With such a detailed background Angelique really needed to be “the hero”. By this I mean she needed change, to learn, and triumph, in this case over herself and her past. In the end she’s just along for the ride.
The inevitable (it would seem sex) between Tristan and Angelique is unnecessary and coupled with her incarceration pushes blandly into the misogynistic. While it could be argued Angelique’s actions (and reactions) are commensurate with her character suffering from Stockholm Syndrome I found this part of the book distasteful compared to the other bright ideas contained within.
As Tristan and his cohorts become more sadistic the story degenerates into a “chase movie/terrorist plot” which doesn’t deliver on its promise. The book perhaps suffers from too many ideas. Tristan’s global plan fades into the background. While the narrative builds to an interesting climax, Dhillon fails to capitalise on the ideas and situations which he’s set up instead focusing on (what I felt) was a minor plot point.
The Cuckoo Parchment and the Dyke is a generally well-written book full of carnage, brutality, and crisp ideas. However for me, it didn’t pull all the threads together to leave a satisfying finish.
While the book isn’t a lengthy, a few choice edits would have benefited to make the narrative snappier and pacier. To make matters slightly worse there are frequent grammatical and punctuation errors which tends to comes with self-publishing. This is a shame because the writing itself is of good quality and with a little more interrogation of the story The Cuckoo Parchment and the Dyke could have been something special.
For more information on Michael Dhillon go to http://www.myspace.com/michaeldhillon.