Originally published in New Welsh Review 95
Curious realities and unreliable narration scuffle for attention in Michael Nath's debut novel La Rochelle, set during the hostage crisis of 2004. Taking an off-centre seat in the playhouse of the protagonist's mind, the reader's view of what really happens on stage is skewed by the delusions and deviations of Dr. Mark Chopra, a chaste and passive neurologist infatuated with his drinking pal's girlfriend. When the girl, Laura, goes missing, the two men fail to spring into action, instead boozing their way through the two weeks that pass as Mark performs a tactical withdrawal into the works of Nietzsche and Cervantes, amongst others. As the story is slowly uncoiled "like a reel of film", Mark's not-so-desperate search for solutions subjects the reader to a seemingly never-ending deviation from the matter at hand; "full of holiday invitations from what we're meant to be thinking of, is our old friend the mind."
It is Nath's transcription of the thought processes of Mark that provide the novel's early hook, as the good doctor desperately attempts to take control of a narrative which initially casts him in a tertiary role. He uses the blank space afforded him by Nath to half-convince himself, and his audience, of his own importance. Volleying between crippling self-deprecation and delusions of grandeur, this deftly constructed voice is one of intriguing oppositions. Mark is erudite yet depraved, cultured yet uncouth. He contradicts himself, he contains multitudes. In other words, he's as real as any one of us. But as realistic and admirable a depiction of the deluges of the human mind that this is, it can't hope to sustain the reader's interest over the course of 280 pages. And so the novel begins to show its weaknesses, as you realise that Nath's adroit portrayal of the thought processes of one man is too often only slightly more interesting than the thought processes of any other person at any given time. Verbosity creeps in. The narrative starts to plod. You almost stop caring.