Sam Riviere’s Dead Souls, the first of these three debut novels, begins on the South Bank, where a publisher is telling the narrator about a literary scandal involving a poet named Solomon Wiese. The narrator is barely listening, instead growing fixated on the publisher’s silent wife: ‘although I was able to prevent myself from sliding my eyes leftwards to look at her, the fact of her presence began to weigh on me more and more heavily, accompanied by a growing certainty that for seconds at a time she was staring at me, specifically at an area around my left shoulder, quite close to my neck.’
The whole novel is built upon this kind of supercharged anxiety and solipsism. The narrator goes on to a poetry reading afterparty and meets the aforementioned Wiese, who spends the rest of the night (and novel) relaying, in overwhelming detail, how he came to be excised from the literary firmament. It is, essentially, an epic shaggy-dog story, served up to us in one raw slab of text – no chapters or paragraphs – at the centre of which is a plagiarism scandal (there is a gently vampiric undertone to all this). This story is filtered through the eyes of the narrator in neurotically repetitive prose, every sentence doubling back on itself in a haze of pedantry. It may all sound wildly inaccessible, but the repetitiveness is finely judged and moreish.