EXPOSURE by Louis Greenberg
Titan Books p/b £8.99
Reviewed by Nigel Robert Wilson
That tedious old pick-up line `do I know you from somewhere’ appears on Page 3 as Petra, a migrant from South Africa, meets a guy who has just fallen from the window of a house with a red front door in Leamington Spa. Eventually, they swap telephone numbers as she learns that Vincent is clearing out his deceased grandfather’s house, having recently sold it.
Exposure is a confusing tale primarily as its subject, immersive theatre, is a deliberately muddled concept. The tale is set in a parallel future Britain where the National Health Service has been abolished to be replaced by some bizarre insurance scheme. The vagaries of this supposed improvement are fully played out in the tale as Petra struggles with her mother’s need for operative care. The tale is ugly as its subject is no article of beauty.
Petra is a frustrated artist who has found work as a retail assistant for Suki, who runs a super-cool gift shop that Petra suspects makes no money whatsoever as it is really an entity designed to make losses that can be offset against far higher profits being made elsewhere by Suki’s family. There is an underpinning theme to the story that nothing really is at it is meant to be. Also, the social environment depicted is of people with money and time to spare. As a foreigner, Petra is struggling with the British class system. With all due respect, so is Greenberg, but that is another ugly tale entirely.
The moral to this story is to never accept a prize from a competition you cannot remember entering. Vincent is sent tickets for three shows by an organisation called Metamuse. Metamuse is marketed as a show, but it is neither a concert nor a play or a film. It is immersive theatre that manipulates a willing audience into emotive and exciting experiences. In their first experience, entitled Intimacy, Vincent and Petra are induced to play a game together before enjoying a meal with intoxicating wine. This leads to a very successful, mutually satisfying intimate encounter.
The second Metamuse show is called Cabinet. This is more immersive, but it is frighteningly ugly, more a collision with death itself, during which Petra loses Vincent and has difficulty finding him again. At this point, the reader finds themselves shouting at Petra to walk away from this scene. It is obviously destructively manipulative not just to Petra but also to Vincent and anyone else for that matter. It feels like that bad trip, that nightmare, and that never to be forgotten experience which leaves you with post-traumatic stress disorder. Vincent is now obsessed with his dead daughter which leaves Petra running around like a loose cannon.
It all ends badly. This is a tale about manipulation. Not just the weird experience of Metamuse, but the callous economically based values of this parallel version of Britain. There are discernible patterns in all this which Petra comes to understand but in that knowledge sows the seeds of her own destruction. There is a tragic aspect to Metamuse that contrives fatal accidents to those who discover the truth about it. But even then, it would seem simple death is not the end. For some, of course.
Exposure is a challenge. There is far more to the plot than is articulated. It sends the reader off into other directions of thought before dragging them back to smell the rottenness that underpins this variant of our society. It is not so much a tale but a veritable mine of concepts for others to explore. Metamuse indeed! It does what it says on the tin.