Infinite Ground – Martin MacInnes

A young man named Carlos is attending a family reunion dinner, when he leaves the table – and goes missing without trace. A veteran police inspector is called in to search for him.

Whilst factually accurate, this summary gets nowhere near the heart, or even the story, of this strange (in a good way, mostly) and complex novel from Martin MacInnes. It takes place in an unnamed organisation, that carries out an unnamed service in an unamed South American country, and the protagonist is known only as the Inspector.

It starts out like a detective novel, with interviews and crime-scene reconstruction and an inspector who is the almost-obligatory tortured soul. And although it never entirely loses this dimension, it shifts, dramatically, until we’re left not with a mis-per investigation but with an unsettling dystopian exploration of reality.

What has or has not happened; what is real and what is imaginary; what is true or untrue is indistinguishable. There are moments – pages – when I thought I might be getting to grips with the whole thing, only for it to morph towards a surreal, philosophical or scientific bent, and leave me wondering all over again.

There is something haunting about the novel, something insidious, claustrophobic, melancholic, which draws you in as equally as it’s testing you. McInnes certainly has a way with words, his prose is elegant and clever, and the formality of the language adds to the out-of-place, out-of-time feel.

It was probably the writing (and curiosity) that kept me reading. The characterisation is probably the weakest link; I never felt engaged with any of the characters, but the distance is perhaps the point. As I read, I was transported back to my PhD classes, hearing novel extracts from colleagues far cleverer than I am, and whilst I appreciated their skills I figured I was somewhat missing their points… So I did what I rarely do, and that was look at other reviews – and found a wonderful mix of opinions.

I feel as if I’ve written a cryptic review. It’s not intentionally so, but then MacInnes has written a cryptic novel. All I can say is – try it. You may find it fascinating, alienating, tedious; you’ll certainly find it different, and that is never a bad thing.

Infinite Ground is published by Atlantic Books.




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