‘I Think We Should Both Start Seeing Other Worlds’ by Neil Fraser Addison
-Reviewed by Claudia Haberberg-
I cannot help but feel that the title of Neil Fraser Addison’s I Think We Should Both Start Seeing Other Worlds is a little misleading. With a title like that, I would have expected…well…more worlds. Not necessarily literal other worlds or planets, but perhaps a few more diverse conceptual locations to explore. There is only one explicit other world, and the rest is frankly rather confusing.
The ‘other world’ we see is Ruby Island, the place where a nation of celebrities make absurd, desperate, and increasingly futile attempts to reclaim their former wealth. It is put to us in a series of vignettes, where a cast of characters largely unconnected by real world culture – P. Diddy, Dan Brown, Jamiroquai and ‘the lead singer of nickleback [sic]’ to name but a few – sell their possessions and mount improbable advertising campaigns to promote donation drives.
At their best, these vignettes are witty, incisive and surreal, with insightful and funny critiques of such cultural monoliths as reality TV and the music industry. I particularly enjoyed a glimpse into ‘the lead singer of nickleback[sic]’’s creative process: ‘He thinks he can employ all of his financial misery during the recording session by disguising it as a woman and pretending that this woman has recently broken his heart. Tania will be his codename for the fact that he is now cash-poor.’ (Some might argue that said lead singer presents rather an easy target, considering that it is as much a meme to poke fun at Nickelback now as it was to poke fun at Creed ten years ago, but that is another discussion for another time.)
Much of the time, however, this carefully constructed absurdity becomes a little baffling.
Whilst the amorphous collection of major and minor celebrities named in the stories is stylistically interesting up to a point, one wonders if they might not benefit from having a closer real world link. I am not entirely convinced that obscurity serves the surrealist aesthetic very well.
Another connecting character – distinct but tied to Ruby Island – is Frank Ahoy, a writer whose desperate attempts to garner attention from publishing houses, film studios and various famous individuals seem to attract critical acclaim and government hostility in their own right. Some of Ahoy’s letters have something of the faintly poetic about them, such as pushing writers off semi-metaphorical cliffs in order to establish one’s own writerly supremacy. Many are reminiscent of those occasional, slightly off-the-wall complaint letters to banks or customer service that sometimes find their way onto the Internet, or some of the more bizarre covering letters of the past few years.
I link the Ruby Island stories and Frank Ahoy’s letters together not only because they reference each other in the text itself, but because these seem to hold the largest mirror up to a world in the grip of both an economic and an identity crisis. The parallels are evident, particularly in the incomprehensible attempts of the super-rich to boost recovery, but I’m not completely sure of how successful they are. I feel that I raised my eyebrow more often than I nodded along.
There are various other short stories scattered across this narrative landscape, many of which deal with human relationships and celebrity (again), but they are not particularly memorable. Another recurrent character, Giddi Stavanger – who reads like a melange of Bjork and Tracey Emin – creates stolen, overblown art and is simultaneously aware and unaware of how ultimately pseudo-intellectual and artificial it all is. I cannot help but wonder whether the author recognises himself in this character at all. This collection has moments of charm, humour and insight. However, as a whole, it left me confused and more than a little irritated.