Never Was is a hallucinatory novel set in a limbo of lost dreams, exploring transmasculinity, addiction, loss, and what we do when we tell and hear our own and others’ stories. Daniel is on a clifftop by an afterparty held by the apparently famous Fin, a party full of drugs and a sense of unreality. It is unclear why they are there, but as Daniel starts telling Fin the story of a mining town in the North, a kid growing up with a salt miner father, and a Great Subsidence that changed everything, maybe the purpose of the place Daniel and Fin are in will become clear.
The page layout of this novel really stands out, experimental but always in service of communicating something, particularly through the bulk of the novel where it serves as a method of dialogue and of telling two stories at once. I loved the opening single page vignettes that lead you into the book and the sense of party hallucination you got from them. The multi-part narrative that sits within this narrative, narrated by Daniel, explores working-class life in a similar to way to Isabel Waidner’s books, using both the surreal and the gritty plus cultural touchstones like Neighbours. Lurking around the edges are recurring themes of addiction and gender, and the ways in which these sometimes have to lurk around the edges, as people try to ignore them.
The style and the storytelling really enraptured me, and also what isn’t told. Never Was feels like a puzzle that takes you along for the ride.
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