Space-Age & Pop-Art Dreams


Across My Dreams With Nets Of Wonder (Fisher King Publishing) - John Howard

For a man to whom narrative has played a salient part in his songs, it came as little surprise that English tunesmith John Howard seamlessly transferred his attention to creating a trilogy of engaging and evocative memoirs outlining his erratic but lifelong sojourn in music. Now his fertile imagination has delivered a febrile and fantastical novel, Across My Dreams With Nets Of Wonder, whose title has been lifted from Bob Lind's evergreen 1965 hit "Elusive Butterfly" whose subject matter is a delightful motif fluttering throughout a text of extraordinary articulation and finesse.

Part Alan Bennett meets Doctor Who, Back To The Future reimagined by Ealing Studios, here is a novel not short on ambition. Elements of science fiction seamlessly blend with a sense of magic realism. Still, in Howard's matter-of-fact vision, there's an everyday element to unusual and unexpected turns and twists within his assured and diligent prose. Science Faction is a term that more easily encapsulates his tale of extraordinary and unlikely events rendered acceptable to the reader via his understated handling of quirks, strangeness, and charm. There's also a neat blast of art history sneaking across within the chapters.

At the heart of the novel resides a delightful subtext. An affectionate cavalcade of postcards and polaroids a la '60s London in full swing with pop music as the beat in the heart. Cameos cascade. Marc Bolan and David Bowie in their early twenties as gouache young, ambitious things, Joe Meek and his largely forgotten crush and prodigy Heinz, the Beatles, and a litany of girl singers sparkle like light through the scratches on a once glitzy newsreel. You don't need to be a music aficionado to capture and enjoy the vibe, but if you are, it adds an extra frisson of pleasure.

Just as the disparate strands of Howard's ambitious themes seem to become engulfed by the breadth and depth of his grand design, they gradually resolve their existence as they become woven into the page-turning narrative -- no mean feat in itself.

Funny but imbued with a Proustian sense of sadness, this is a dynamic tour de force about time, ambition, and the true nature of what resides beneath our mannered, social surfaces most daily situations rely upon. It effortlessly crafts historic interactions into playful narratives. Einstein and Turing become a pair of space-age houseboys on a spaceship, and an A.I. Marilyn Monroe steals the show towards and at the end.

A dizzying accomplishment, this is a serious novel with a playfulness of heart. It is a page-turner that strikes a depth and poignancy either absent or avoided in most accessible fiction. This unique offering deserves the wider audience that a movie could provide, but for now, it deserves to be shown in the expansive private cinema of the mind.

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