Float Down the Stream of Consciousness

Review of Mehreen Ahmed's Moirae.


On a planet with two moons far in our future, not much has changed. Poverty and political corruption are rampant, religious discord still divides humanity, and immigrants seeking a better life are feared and shunned.

Moirae is a dense book packed with literary allusion, existential crises, and personal and public tragedies, told through a unique blend of narrative and stream-of-consciousness styles, tinged with moments of magic realism.

Ahmed enhances the stream-of-consciousness segments by eliminating all punctuation, turning sentences into double entendres depending on where you think they should end. “You stupid fool why did you lie so Tell them the truth…” This technique also forces a closer read than if supplied with all the usual markers.

The term "stream of consciousness" was coined in 1890 by philosopher, William James, who said, “A 'river' or a 'stream' are the metaphors by which it is most naturally described. In talking of it hereafter, let's call it the stream of thought, consciousness, or subjective life.”

In 1922, James Joyce wrote his masterpiece, Ulysses, employing the stream of conscious narrative device. Since then, it has been hailed as one of the most elusive and beautiful writing styles that an author can choose. But because of the difficulties in achieving brilliance in such a demanding narrative voice, only masterful writers choose to take up the call. Virginia Woolf’s, Mrs. Dalloway, William Faulkner’s, The Sound and the Fury, and Samuel Beckett’s, Molloy are a few of the greatest examples.

More recently, and perhaps more closely aligned with Moirae’s use of stream of consciousness, Irvine Welsh’s, Trainspotting is an example of how states of dreaming and reality collide together to form a narrative that is not mediated. The character’s mind is unfettered by the structure of a regular narrative. As such, even with the double entendre in meaning when Nalia dreams in Moirae, we are presented with a truer representation of reality; the world is not narrated by a third person. That shift in Moirae, of removing the traditional narrator, is the realism that stream of consciousness writing strives for; a story without mediation.

Only the bravest authors tackle stream of consciousness. The atmospheric imagery and richly layered language required is akin to Picasso’s abstract art or John Coltrane’s free-form jazz. That is, the unusual phrasing and lack of punctuation create brush strokes and notes of a unique voice.

In Ahmed's story, the plight of a number of characters forced by circumstances to leave their homelands, or commit acts of desperation is presented to the reader as a river of thought; flowing from place to place, and from person to person. Each is a story of escape: by boat, or by madness; from one hell to another; from a clear-cut problem, to an empty Kafkaesque nightmare. Simultaneously celebrating the human spirit, while allowing capricious fate to rule, the author elevates the plight of the poor to Greek Tragedy; even, at times, supplying choruses drawn from ancient theater.

An intelligent tale requiring a high level of reader participation, Moirae captivates and satisfies on multiple levels.

Moirae can be found here.

Ferguson's books can be found here.


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