Book - Mono

James Knight Mono

Susan Omand indulges her fondness for the surreal and slightly scary and reviews James Knight's new book, released yesterday...

Following on from James’ recent books, like In the Dark Room (reviewed here), Mono is another collection of loosely related verses, rather than the more eclectic selections of his earlier works. So what is it about? I really can’t say to be honest. It’s best to give you the author’s own description.

Set in a surreal totalitarian state populated by spies, vampires, robots and chimpanzees, Mono offers the reader a kaleidoscope of mutating story-lines. Eve is abducted and imprisoned in a subterranean compound. The sinister Mirrors inject readymade dreams into the minds of citizens. Dr Mort brings extinct animals back to life. Serge plots the assassination of a dictator... Binding all the strands together is the portrait of a writer who is desperate to expose the truth about the bleak world in which he lives, but who cannot distinguish between memories, fantasies and dreams.

Accompanied by sixty monochrome illustrations and written in Knight's characteristically terse, darkly humorous style, Mono is perhaps best described as an entertaining nightmare.

However, the description above doesn’t give you the most pivotal thing about this book, and that is that the central character in the majority of the verses is ... you.

I love that the book is written in the second person as it immediately conjures up a sense of involvement and interaction. But more than that, as I devoured each page, it felt more like a possession than a mere interaction as each verse gets into the dark spaces in your mind, like a post hypnotic suggestion or a subliminal message and it cowers there, only to surface long after you put the book down and when you’re least expecting it. And more, even, than that, line after line, he makes you examine your own psyche as you realise that these dark and disturbing places actually exist as part of you.

And the art... oh the art. Pages of psychedelic monochrome intersperse the writing, assaulting your visual senses as much as the words assault your mind. To quote Banksy, Cesar Cruz and many others, art should disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed and, boy, does this do that. I have complained before about how James’ art should be seen in full glorious Technicolor in his books because they lose something without his transcendent sense of jarring contrast in his palettes but these photos are meant to be black and white. The images emphasise the shapes and the shadows and pull you in with the sharpness of the detail but, because of James’ talent in creating these photos, there is still that sense of edge and discomfort as seemingly dissonant objects are overlapped into a whole that is much greater, and more shocking, than the sum of its parts.

I won’t lie. This is not an easy read and, often, not a pleasant read but, in the same way as a really good horror film, a Schoenberg variation or a half remembered dream, once you have experienced Mono, it will stay with you forever.

Image - James Knight

Mono is available from Lulu here.
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