SAFARI FESTIVAL FORTNIGHT!
Sometimes helplessness is the greatest horror of all.
Matthew Pettit’s The Fields Beyond – a book that debuts this weekend at the fourth annual Safari Festival – bills itself as “episode 1”. Whether this is actually an ongoing narrative, though, or the first of a series of inter-related stories (or something else entirely!) remains to be seen. Pettit’s landscape format tale defies easy definition and yet has a hauntingly spellbinding quality to it, instantly drawing the reader into the confusion and anxiety of its lost protagonist as he is launched into a series of bizarre events that are beyond his control.
We first encounter our central character “Tom” lost in a field of grass, unsure of how he arrived there but certain of one thing: he needs to find his missing girlfriend Jessica. This remote environment houses just one unremarkable building – a nondescript, featureless concrete shell that acts as the entry point to the mysterious Electric Gentleman’s Club.
Within these walls Tom’s quest for his missing partner will bring him into contact with the staff and the elderly visitors to this odd establishment as he passes through an eerie twilight world of archaic ritual and musty tradition. But it’s when he discovers the object of his search that things will take on an even weirder significance as Tom becomes seemingly permanently entangled in this nightmarish domain…
The Fields Beyond is one of those books that different readers will engage with and respond to on different levels. There’s a dream logic to these pages that means the observer finds themselves experiencing events rather than interpreting them; realising that they themselves are so entrapped in the tortuous and entrancing rhythm of Tom’s ordeal that the whys and wherefores become secondary to their immersion in the immediate moment.
That feeling of the claustrophobic and the inescapable permeate the twenty-odd pages of the book. There’s something very fatalistic about The Fields Beyond – a sense of doomed predestination that becomes all the more discomfiting for Pettit’s unsettling layouts. Constant shifts in perspective, the strangely contrasting colour scheme and the ever changing proportions of characters and environments in relation to each other all add to making this a most disquieting read. Added to that, the occasional jarring shifts as Tom experiences full-page blackouts constantly remind us of his impotence within the confines of his own narrative.
The lack of thematic clarity to The Fields Beyond may not appeal to everyone but there’s no denying that this is an unnervingly cyclical tale from a creator with an unyielding eye for the idiosyncratic and the uncanny. The most intriguing work yet from the twisting mindscape of Matthew Pettit and one not be missed at Safari on Saturday.
For regular updates on all things small press follow Andy Oliver on Twitter here.