Gathering Evidence by Martin MacInnes - review by David Annand

David Annand

Death of the Subject

Gathering Evidence

By

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In the delightful film adaptation of Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys, Hannah Green says of Professor Grady Tripp’s 2,611-page manuscript:

You know how in class you’re always telling us that writers make choices? ... And even though your book is really beautiful, I mean, amazingly beautiful, it’s, it’s at times, it’s, very detailed. You know, with the genealogies of everyone’s horses, and the dental records, and so on. And, I could be wrong, but it sort of reads in places like you didn’t make any choices. At all.

 

The film takes it as a given that the project of the author is to isolate the telling specifics, the artfully chosen details that make a portrait convincing, help build a story and conjure a person out of nothing. Hannah would probably find a naysayer in the Scottish novelist Martin MacInnes, who I imagine would have a lot to say about the assumptions that underpin this approach: the prioritisation of random information, the cosy suppositions about the stability of the self, the implied faith in human exceptionalism. As he put it in an interview with BOMB magazine, he’s keen to ‘dissolve the idea that humans are discrete things – shapes entirely made of this “human” quality, entirely ourselves, with a solid skin border separating us from everything else, bound as a species with a clear origin point, sufficiently removed from all other life’.

This project started in earnest with MacInnes’s garlanded first novel, 2016’s Infinite Ground, a clear-eyed and hilariously deadpan metaphysical police procedural. In it, a retired detective in an unnamed South American country is charged with finding Carlos, a 29-year-old employee of a weirdly purposeless corporation, who walked away from

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