Review: Incognolio by Michael Sussman

★★★★½ Incognolio by Michael Sussman

For readers who are eager to have their imaginations shattered into a thousand pieces, this bizarre and fascinating novel by Michael Sussman is sure to please. Incognolio, both the title of this novel and the ultimate goal of anyone trying to shed their conscious mind, is a strange journey with unreliable narrators who seem to be having a perpetual identity crisis.

From the very first page of this novel, you can tell that the read will be an unusual one to say the least. The subtle style of writing in surreal details, or breaking the fourth wall of the page, creates a strange aura around the reading, as though you can’t trust anything that is being said, or what the characters are telling you.

As vague as this introduction sounds, that is the tone of the book; the concept of a plot is far too structured for the sort of disjointed and experimental writing that overflows in this novel. Sometimes, an abstract concept is a real thing, or at least the narrator believes it to be… at times. The made-up words and purposely ridiculous characters that populate these pages make a reader ripe for madness, but there is a poetic flow to the narrative that somehow makes a plot unnecessary.

A cross between A Clockwork Orange and a modern-day Divine Comedy, the novel rocks and rolls between clever chats and nonsense, with the through-line, of course, being the illness, or state of nirvana known as incognolio. Or perhaps it’s the title of the novel the narrator is writing… or perhaps it is all of them at the same time. Not only are the scenes seemingly unrelated, or only loosely existing in the same universe, but the manner in which the author plays with time is also mindbendingly good. There are so many quirks and queer moments in the book that your brain is constantly engaged – a rarity for any book chapter or well-crafted paragraph, let along an entire novel.

With such an unpredictable plot and narrative voice progression, it becomes difficult to criticize any part of the novel. Weirdness runs amok, characters that readers trust become pushed aside and the plot speeds forward, rarely slowing. In the space between dreams and imagination, between clarity of thought and insanity, this bizarre collection of vignettes exists – and it’s truly a pleasure to explore.

Very few editing mistakes are noticeable, and the pace of the novel is excellent. There is excitement mixed with existential quandaries and enough tongue-in-cheek humor to keep you giggling with every turn of the page. The point of the book maybe is to challenge our present ideas of introspection and explore the concept of the conscious mind. To get as deep and heady as Sussman does, yet manage to maintain an edge of wisdom with the whimsy, takes a very talented author.

If you are looking for a unique novel, Incognolio is definitely one to check out, especially if you like a bit of madness with your words – this book has more than enough to go around.

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