Review: Harlequin’s Riddle by Rachel Nightingale

Here’s my review of a sensational debut novel by Australian author and award-winning playwright, Rachel Nightingale. It might look like a YA fantasy novel, but don’t be fooled! Read on and discover why I am in rapture over this book.

“The Gazini Players are proud to present
For your Edification and Enjoyment
Tales of great Joy, and of great Woe

Ten years ago, Mina’s beloved older brother disappeared with a troupe of travelling players, and was never heard from again.

On the eve of Mina’s own departure with a troupe, her father tells her she has a special gift for story telling, a gift he silenced years before in fear of her ability to call visions into being with her stories.

Mina soon discovers that the travelling players draw their powers from a mysterious place called Tarya, where dreams are transformed into reality. While trying to solve the mystery of her brother’s disappearance, she discovers a dark secret to the players’ onstage antics. Torn between finding her brother or exposing the truth about the players, could her gifts as a story teller offer a way to solve Harlequin’s riddle?”

*****

It is a stark fact that for the last few decades the major players in the book publishing industry have chosen to be led by their sales teams, and commissioning editors must bow to their publisher’s bottom line. Editors may fall in love with a story, want to praise it from the rooftops, but they are stuck with having to tell the author the harsh truth that their sales department, not known for vision and decidedly risk averse, have deemed the work unsaleable. It happens time and again that a truly great work slips through the cracks and ends up – because it IS truly a great work – being picked up by one of the lesser known small presses. If you want to read excellent original fiction, hunt out works released by reputable small presses.

Harlequin’s Riddle is one of those books, for Rachel Nightingale has composed a work of remarkable vision and depth of insight, a work narrated in an accessible and enchanting style; gentle, inviting, sensory, like silk and gossamer. The pace is slow at first, but never meandering, and quickens at each plot point, as what begins as a quest evolves into a dark mystery.

 Harlequin’s Riddle is a story of illusion and make believe in art and theatre. The novel opens with Mina watching a travelling theatre troupe perform in her village as she misses her older brother, Paolo, who took off with a troupe a decade before, and never returned. She was seven when he left, and she’s seventeen when with her mother’s blessing she joins the theatre troupe in the hope of finding him. The reader is swept along on the aspirations, hopes and dreams of innocence, a false innocence for Mina’s childhood scars are many, and the grief and anguish and betrayal are buried so deep Mina is numb to them, until they surface and form a destabilising force, propelling her into understanding and ultimately wholeness.

Despite the fictitious setting, Nightingale paints an evocative portrait of medieval Italy with its rugged coastline, its quaint villages, forests and northern lakes. The author’s depiction of the theatre troupe with their colourful sets and costumes is vibrant and alive and enthralling, the reader provided a privileged view, looking over Mina’s shoulder at the other players and the audience. Much of the story involves the travellers journeying in their wagons to the Festival of Lights held in the large city of Aurea, and again, the reader is swept along for the ride as the troupe cope with various dramas and adventures along the way. There is much here to entertain every reader, young and old, the final quarter of the novel dripping with visual splendour.

On another level, Harlequin’s Riddle is less a tale of Mina’s quest to find her brother, and more a study of the nature of imagination and creativity, that curious moment of conjuring, bringing into being that which we inwardly see, and seeing that which we inwardly describe – words and pictures, which comes first? The creative process, at the moment of conception, differs between the arts and among artists, but always there is a point of manifestation and it is this that fills the pages of Harlequin’s Riddle.

Coupled with the theme of creativity and the creative process are ideas of spirituality and healing, the very quality we access when we transcend ordinary reality in creative imaginative acts, is also a powerful source of beneficial transformation and healing. Nightingale calls this multidimensional realm Tarya. It is what esotericists call the ‘inner planes’, and it is here that the deeper essence of Harlequin’s Riddle is apparent. 

Entering Tarya involves altering your state of awareness, undergoing an out of body experience, and engaging in astral travel. Tarya is the realm of the shaman, the magus, the trickster, the psychopomp. Here is a small taste of Tarya.

“A subtle buzzing of hidden energy surrounded her. She looked down on distant mountains, and nearby trees, and people, many people, and each shape glimmered with light, layer upon layer of light, blurring outlines of real objects. There were intricate spiderwebs laid across the whole scene, gold threads wrapped around and over everything.”

In the villages, the players are feared for it is known they have occult or arcane power, one that destroys as it sets out to give joy. Unlike the players, Mina has the gift of storytelling, and she accesses Tarya differently, going far beyond the realms accessed by the players, realms that are connected to the  living earth, to enter the purer planes of existence, where spiritual wisdom resides. This innate ability sets her apart, leads her into danger and ultimately drives her quest.

There is much to reflect on in Harlequin’s Riddle, and much to appreciate. Harlequin’s Riddle  is a story to lose yourself in, and can be read on many levels. It isn’t necessary to understand anything about the occult or arcani to appreciate the novel, although the astute reader will recognise Harlequin’s Riddle  as a transpersonal journey, one of initiation and healing. Nightingale has penned a unique and exquisite tale that deserves to be widely known, a story with a depth of awareness and understanding that will hold special appeal to those with an interest in alternative spiritualities. In the final analysis, Harlequin’s Riddle a work of intelligence and refinement that I can only compare to an Ursula le Guin, with overtones of Umberto Eco in theme but not in compositional style. A visionary fiction masterpiece.

Harlequin’s Riddle is available through all good booksellers.

Buy your copy here

Find Rachel Nightingale here

 

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My venture into historical fiction begins

I have a little announcement, and I’m feeling awfully nervous.
For the past few weeks I’ve been throwing obstacles in the path of this. I’m beginning the demanding task of turning my doctoral thesis into a novel. Well, sort of.
My thesis concerns a corpus, a body of obscure texts. My novel will attempt to embody the life of the author. Her name is Alice Bailey. She’s a highly controversial figure nobody outside New Age and conspiracy theory circles has heard of. Yet her writing has been enormously influential on the world stage and it is easy to show how. Her life is colourful and interesting too, with themes many will relate to, including domestic violence, elitism and exclusion, jealousy and malice.
What is challenging is that I am treading the controversial path of ‘faction’ – inspired by  Heather Rose’ The Museum of Modern Love, and Melissa Ashley’s The Birdman’s Wife, both prize winning books. I am indebted to the authors for tamping down the grass on this narrow rocky path, impressing us all with the results of their hard labours. I’ve reviewed both works and I have become so enthusiastic in my praises, the authors might be wondering ‘who is this nut who keeps liking my short-list announcements with “told you so” comments?’
In reviewing these works, it appears I’ve been set a high bar.
My story will be structured differently. There will be echoes of The Chemistry of Tears by Peter Carey, for mine is a frame story. I have chosen this approach as I want to tell a little of Alice Bailey’s legacy. Creating a narrative frame set in the present seems to me the only way to achieve this.
I have the title.
I’ve conjured a protagonist to put in the frame. I already love her to bits.
I’ve completed my research on the life of Alice Bailey. I have it all written up in a submittable draft, what I thought was a submittable draft.
I’ve storyboarded the chapters.
I am about to invoke the voice of Alice Bailey.
Nothing in my literary journey to date has been more daunting and more compelling than this project.
Will I pull it off? If I do, will anyone, other than me, be interested in this mysterious woman whose story has gone untold for many decades?
So here I go, bathers donned despite the cold, facing the choppy waters of historical fiction. Already, there’s a storm on the horizon.

A Perfect Square – review by Suzanne Diprose

I’m delighted to share this thoughtful review of A Perfect Square by Suzanne Diprose.

This book held me captive as I read about the primary relationships between two different mothers and their daughters through time, different countries and challenges. It was intriguing to explore their particular journeys and tensions through life’s stages and the resilience of the relationships during these challenges and responsibilities. I can see shades of so many of us in these descriptive stories within the book.

The rich vignettes provide details that allow the reader to build an understanding of the characters, their backgrounds with its impact on their daily choices and selected lifestyles. The story engages you and the descriptions held so true.

We have visions of earlier inner city Melbourne, Sassafras and Dandenong Ranges, plus locales in rural Britain. When reading from my armchair I was transported to the UK or up the main street in Sassafras and right into the art gallery, garden shop, antiques shop and tea rooms.

As a local of the Hills I appreciated how Isobel depicted the environment, the early evenings and how dusk rolls in over the mountains every evening. Also Isobel’s words describe shades of people we rub shoulders with regularly up here in the hills. There are some great names to be on the lookout for – start collecting them as you read through! I kept diving back to see who would I meet!

The interwoven stories provide an insight into the essence of a creative and quirky soul with deep thinking, rich patterns, and concerns. Isobel is not afraid to outline the uneasy and challenging questions and parts of the mother and daughter relationships that span 30 or 40 years. A great read.

a perfect square can be purchased at the book depository, amazon and through all good bookstores. For a signed copy, contact the author via this site.

Book Review: A Perfect Square

Pleased to share this fine review by author Kathryn Gossow. 🙂

Kathryn Gossow

Purchase A Perfect Square from Odyssey Books 

Two women on either side of the world live almost parallel lives. Both artists with a preference for seclusion, Harriet in the Dandenong Ranges paints abstract scenes of Wessex and Judith in Dartmoor paints and yearns for the Australian landscape she has never seen. Both have daughters, returned home. Both are not sure what to do with their difficult and slightly broken daughters.

A Perfect Square is Isobel Blackthorn’s third novel. The layers within this book stem from her interest in the Western esotericism and conspiracy theories. It is one of those books you read the first time for the story, and then go back to for the second layer, the glittering bits that lift the story.

Harriet has Synaesthesia – she sees colours in music and considers this an inner knowing which she struggles to portray in her art. Ginny, her musically talented daughter in her paisley clothes…

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A Perfect Square – esoteric fiction

A Perfect Square is on some level an exploration of the different ways people approach esotericism. Who are these people? Where can we find them? Meet the eccentric artist Harriet Brassington-Smythe, her daughter, pianist Ginny Smith, and the mysterious hidden figure of Wilhelm Schmid, a scholar of the esoteric order of the Rosicrucians.

9781922200457-Cover

I cannot say that conspiracy theory is a major theme in A Perfect Square, but it does enter into one of the story lines, as mother and artist Judith, alone in an old farmhouse on the Devon moors, explores an internet forum, called ‘The Forum’.

My own thinking on esotericism and on conspiracy thinking goes much deeper. Why do the two go together and how? They are united through two words: elitism and secrecy. Simply put, conspiracy thinking always points to some sort of elite. Esoteric practice creates that elite. Esoteric practice generally occurs in secret. Power elites conduct their business in secret. Conspiracy theorists tend to also have an esoteric bent. Esoteric-minded types will always always look behind the scenes to see if they can see what’s going on. They sense the conspiring. But they get hung up on theories. Why bother? When really, conspiracy theories are themselves just mental traps.

Here’s a piece I wrote for the aptly named Paranoia magazine. Where I have tried to stretch my thinking a little further.

http://www.paranoiamagazine.com/2016/08/mastering-art-occultism/

And as for A Perfect Square, I like to think it packs a punch. Well, that was my intention. At the time of writing I was inspired very much by Umberto Eco’s The Prague Cemetery. Like Eco, I’m motivated by the fact that there is too much misinformation out there, misinformation that easily takes root in minds rendered receptive through a lack of access to alternative and perhaps accurate information. I also marvel at the way opposers, especially those on the Left, get so hot under the collar when it comes to conspiracy thinking, as though it were a personal affront. Or threat?

A Perfect Square is now available for pre-order, which is quite exciting and I’m very grateful to Odyssey Books for choosing to publish the work.

http://odysseybooks.com.au/titles/a-perfect-square-available-29-august/

I’ve commenced work on another novel, one that explores the ideas of Theosophist Alice A Bailey. If you would like to journey with me as I venture further into this strange realm of the unknown, please contact me and I’ll add you to my mailing list.

On ‘Narziss and Goldmund’ by Hermann Hesse

First published in 1930, Narziss and Goldmund forms part of a profoundly insightful body of work by Hermann Hesse.

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I visited Goodreads and was not surprised to find well over a thousand reviews. I’ve only read the first few, and I’m left wondering what I can add that would contribute to the collective understanding of this work.

I will admit I am not a scholar of literature or history, nor have I read any biography of Hesse. I first came across his work in my twenties and devoured Steppenwolf and The Glass Bead Game among others. Back then I had not a clue about the spiritual path or western esotericism. But decades have passed and now I do, and it is with fresh eyes that I can perhaps see what Hesse might have been trying to achieve.

In Narziss and Goldmund, Hesse presents the reader with two sorts of spirituality and the two paths that unfold from each. Narziss is destined to be the Abbott of a cloister. He is a philosopher, a thinker, living close to God in the realm of the abstract mind. He is the archetypal master of wisdom.

His pupil, Goldmund, is at odds with himself. Memory of part of his childhood is denied him and when he awakens to it, he begins a journey of self discovery that takes him away from the cloister and out into the world. Not the ordinary world of duty and work and family and community. His reality is akin to Arjuna in the battlefield, as written in the Bhagavad Gita; a journey through the realm of extreme emotions, with desire and lust on the one hand, and death in all its forms on the other.

So intense are Goldmund’s responses, that at first he cannot find meaning. But eventually, as he journeys into and through the experiences that befall him, he does. He is a seeker, and the journey is an initiatory one, culminating in the realisation that we transcend the ravages of the emotions through the faculty of imagination, and its finest expressions in art.

Those who resonate with this story are engaging with a work of visionary/metaphysical fiction of enormous profundity. Those who see past the compulsions and shallow satisfactions of the flesh; detect the irony in Goldmund’s relentlessly questioning mind; see into his frustrations and emerging detachment; may understand that through his character, Hesse is portraying the most fundamental pairs of opposites upon which human experience is cleaved: woman and man; lust and death, passion and intellect, good and evil.

And the esoteric thinker will also understand Hesse’s portrayal of the transmutation of the emotions through the faculty of imagination; the image maker within, existing on the plane of intuition, sees in patterns, in completed wholes; thus it is through the harnessing of this faculty of the soul through the imagination that the artist stills the emotions and imbues them with the stamp of something transcendent and universal. And so it is through this process that the pairs of opposites may sit in loose unity.

I’ve long admired Hermann Hesse’s work. I resonate with it now more strongly than ever. As an author I’m in awe of his achievement.  Narziss and Goldmund is not a piece of entertainment; it’s a literary portrayal of the spiritual path.

A Perfect Square cover reveal

9781922200457-Cover Due for release on 29 August 2016

Here it is, the cover of my third novel! It’s a literary thriller/mystery with pizzazz.

Advance review copies of A Perfect Square are now available. If you’re interested in grabbing a copy send me an email by clicking here.

When pianist Ginny Smith moves back to her mother’s house in Sassafras after the breakup with the degenerate Garth, synaesthetic and eccentric Harriet Brassington-Smythe is beside herself. She contrives an artistic collaboration to lift her daughter’s spirits: an exhibition of paintings and songs. Ginny reluctantly agrees.

While mother and daughter struggle with the elements of the collaborative effort, and as Ginny tries to prise the truth of her father’s disappearance from a tight-lipped Harriet, both are launched into their own inner worlds of dreams, speculations and remembering.

Meanwhile, another mother and artist, Judith, alone in a house on the moors, reflects on her own troubled past and that of her wayward daughter, Madeleine.

Set amid the fern glades and towering forests of the Dandenong ranges east of Melbourne, and on England’s Devon moors, A Perfect Square is a literary thriller of remarkable depth and insight. Click to read more