There's a real pleasure, I think, in stumbling across a piece of art - a book, a film, an album - that's obviously special but which no one really knows about yet, and which you weren't even expecting yourself. And it's a vanishing pleasure in our increasingly homogenised and instant world. I used to discover new bands by listening to the radio or going to record shops; I used to find new authors by browsing the secondhand shelves in Blackwells Oxford and taking a chance on something that I had little idea what it was but which looked interesting...
Maybe times have changed, or maybe I'm just old now, but such serendipitous stumbling into something unknown but exciting happens less and less for me nowadays. But when it does happen, I'm still thrilled.
My friend and editor-supreme Dion Winton-Polak posted he'd recently edited a new book, The Headsman by Cristina Mîrzoi. If I'd not been looking at Facebook on my phone at that exact moment, I probably would have missed it, something special lost amidst the horrendous world news, the Wordle scores, the shit-posting and endless adverts. But I did see Dion's post, and thought the book looked interesting, so I picked up a copy.
Having read it, I can say it's far more than 'interesting'. It's really, genuinely, fantastically good. The real deal.
The Headsman is a story told via series of interconnecting chapters, each titled after a figure in the same village (time and place deliberately and pleasingly unspecified): 'The Duke', 'The Maid' etc. Each piece is told from one perspective but together they form a single, whole narrative, the reader realising each is a different pieces of the same jigsaw. Once you work out how the book works, there's an almost addictive feeling starting each new section of the story, trying to work out how it's going to fit into the overall picture. The sections in The Headsman jump around in time as well as perspective, but regardless it's clear the story is heading in one direction only, and towards one ending: death. The titular Headsman is the village's executioner (he uses an axe, hence his name) and it's no real spoiler to say more than one of the characters in the story meet a swift and inevitable end at his hands...
I read The Headsman in a single day and loved every minute of this dark and accomplished narrative. Formally inventive but fable-like in its tale of archetypes, I highly recommend it, and I'm definitely looking forward to future works by Mîrzoi. And if, like me, you're getting older and miss that feeling of stumbling across something new and exciting and unexpected that no one else knows about yet, use this blog post as a catalyst to go out and buy The Headsman now:
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