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Memoirs of a Master Forger by William Heaney
Review by John Berlyne
Gollancz Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780575082977
Date: 16 October 2008 List Price £9.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK /

Uncorrected proof copy : This memoir by "William Heaney" is actually the brand new novel by Graham Joyce, one of the best writers out there by far and one whose work I've covered here before (see my reviews of Smoking Poppy, The Facts of Life and The Limits of Enchantment). Heaney/Joyce's new novel is release this month by from, whereupon the reason for the pseudonym will perhaps reveal themselves - in the meantime Mister Heaney has an on-line journal here.

Graham Joyce is without doubt one of the genre's most exceptional authors. His work sits on the cusp of what could be considered mainstream literary fiction, yet there is always some underlying strangeness, some quality of 'other' implied in his work and it is consistently depicted in such hauntingly beautiful prose and with such authoritative insight that each of his novels has stuck in my mind long after turning the final page. I've been privileged to review Joyce's three most recent novels - Smoking Poppy, The Facts of Life and The Limits of Enchantment. Each of these, so different in their central subject matter, display Joyce's thematic fascinations, which I find I can catalogue no better than Bill Sheenhan did in his introduction to Joyce's 2001 collection of short stories, Partial Eclipse

"Among the issues Graham dramatizes are the inevitability of grief, loss, growth, and change, the primal importance of family bonds, the beauty of the feminine, the life altering effects of parenthood, the nature of the creative unconscious, the overwhelming power of the erotic, the corrupting effects of power, the importance of self-awareness, and the fundamental need for order, meaning, and coherence in the face of a chaotic, inimical universe."
Joyce's new novel, Memoirs of a Master Forger is not a Graham Joyce book at all! Well, I mean it is and it isn't, for the author is purported and advertised to be one William Heaney, coincidentally, the protagonist of the work. Heaney is a man of some considerable depth – he works as a government advisor on youth schemes, he drinks too much red wine, he has a sideline overseeing the production of artisan fake first editions the proceeds from which he donates entirely to charity and he can see demons.

When touched by Joyce's infinitely gentle hand, this notion of demons in genre fiction is a million miles away from the snarling, karate-chopping, prosthetic-wearing comedy monsters so popular in today's urban fantasy market. Heaney's demons are passive spectres, shades which attach themselves to troubled people. They are manifestations of our personal demons, interacting with us on some level known exclusively to themselves. Joyce/Heaney confines the demon to a place that is just this side of metaphor, a presence woven into the fabric of the novel rather than the piston that drives the engine of it. They loom large throughout the narrative, giving the piece an eerie and threatening atmosphere. This in turn is counterbalanced beautifully by the wit, charm and brutal honesty of Heaney. His many likeable flaws are revealed to us both in the present and via a teasing out of back story which is pitched with perfection by Joyce. The writing is exquisite throughout, at times sensuous or tender or shocking and Memoirs of a Master Forger stands as a model example of the craft, a master class in novel construction and character development. Joyce is a writer worthy of study by those with aspirations to join the ranks of published authors… in short, this is how it should be done!

I've only given you a mere taste of what this novel is actually about, but this is deliberate, for whilst the plot of Memoirs of a Master Forger is difficult to encapsulate and summarise, it is also a plot that offers great, great pleasure in the revelations it throws up. Not being a long novel, it is admirably dense, with Joyce packing in a surprising number of plot elements and twists. You'll thank me for not spilling and spoiling it for you here when you read it – and read it you must!

Very highly recommended.


Our Readers Respond

From: Martyn Taylor
    Just had the pleasure of reviewing Memoirs for the BSFA - associational interest, I suppose - and the pleasure was all mine. Graham has a quote from Jonathan Carroll on his site. Now that is what I consider exalted company, and Memoirs has him conversing as an equal. A seriously good book.

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