The Architect by Brendan Connell
Eibonvale Press, p/b, £8.70
Reviewed by Dave Jeffery
The visionary, yet abjectly dislikeable, architect Alexius Nachtman is commissioned by a Society to build what is to be a place to facilitate their meetings and grandstand their artisan profession. Despite dubious credentials, and the cynicism of some of the Society’s own board members, Nachtman breaks ground and then the problems truly begin. As the development proceeds, the narcissistic nature of Nachtman emerges, the design becomes outlandish, by increments deviating from the original blueprint, to the point where it defies structural logic, and becomes a bastion of decadence, excess and occultism.
As the Society tries to inject a degree of restraint to the project, Nachtman beguiles using otherworldly forces and wrestles back control, despite nefarious building practices, and materials. Those who oppose are sent on their way, workers who shirk are brutally punished or put in situations where they are ultimately compromised. As the workforce downs tools in protest of winter working conditions, Nachtman calls out to those who have financial and psychological investment in his ostentatious, macabre vision, and the building work continues using fanatical disciples, who continue without question, their goal to become part of (in some instances, literally) a building of incredible cosmic potency.
In THE ARCHITECT, Connell has pulled together a tale that is both whimsy and fable. The message within the story is one of ambiguity and contradiction, that the desire to be unique requires practices and behaviour that will ultimately set one apart, be that for either good or ill. There is a heavy cosmic horror flavour to the imagery and, by turns, a confounding picture of events as they unfold.
The writing is erudite and lyrical, and the characters well drawn. The narrative is going to be the deciding factor when readers come to making decisions on whether or not to take a chance on THE ARCHITECT, it is certainly not a book for everyone. The writing has an antiquated slant and, on occasion, a little like our antagonist architect, comes over a little smug. However, the ending alone is noteworthy for its flirtation with farce and brings mirth to the ongoing profundity.
Overall, THE ARCHITECT is a high-brow morality tale which has at its heart a well-trodden story that may intrigue and beguile some and frustrate others. There is little doubt that THE ARCHITECT is a blueprint designed for a niche audience. Yet those who are prepared to take a chance and embrace a challenging, convoluted narrative, may be pleasantly surprised by its grand design.