FINDING NEW VOICES
DEFINING NEW GENRES
‘Gifts ought to be free, but they never are. They tie you to the wishes of others. To your own sad expectations. To the penitentiary of your dreams.’
Late one night, Thomas Ruder receives a strange package: a small blue box. Another such item is delivered to his friend Liselotte Hauptmann. These ‘gifts’ will change their lives forever. In the far-off border town of Grenze, a play is to be performed at the Sheol Theatre. Reynard the impresario expects a very special audience. Thomas and Liselotte, together with their friend Johann, are drawn into Reynard’s seductive web, as Daumen, the gift maker, must decide who his master really is.
The Gift Maker is a story about identity, about fulfilling your dreams and becoming the person you always were … at whatever cost.
This is a magical, daring book, set in a world reminiscent of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast or the Wes Anderson film Grand Budapest Hotel. Using language of marvellous distinctiveness and beauty which reveal his poetic background, Mark Mayes creates a sometimes beautiful and frequently nightmarish world where reality and folk tale morph into surrealism to disturbing effect. By turns hilarious and terrifying, wise and thought-provoking, The Gift Maker stands head and shoulders above anything I have read this year. I devoured it in two sittings, and will now start again so as to savour less breathlessly its sublime language and ideas. This sustained feat of imagination is a best-seller and likely award winner if ever I read one. Not for the faint-hearted, but brilliant.
Bestselling crime author Simon Michael
Imagine if one day you received the ultimate gift – an impossible gift, one that you must be dreaming or hallucinating. One that nobody ever gets, because such things don’t exist, are beyond all logic and understanding. Despite its utter impossibility, from an unknown, and potentially dubious, source, it is there, staring you in the face, mesmerising you, forcing you to question its reality. The very fact that you can see it, touch it, interact with it, and that you are wide awake and other people can see it, is proof that it is real. If the impossible is real, then what else is? What does that make possible? And if you don’t open that gift, because you don’t trust it, the question of what that box may have held will trouble you – as much as if you’d opened it?
Three students are drifting through their courses, dulled to their dreams, resigned to the template of their life, until two of them, Thomas and Liselotte, each receive one of these troubling gifts, but react very differently, both unaware of the consequences of their respective choices. Liselotte is mesmerised by hers, whilst Thomas is determined to remain ignorant of his. Neither of them is aware where their gifts will lead them – or each other. They are blissfully unaware that the consequences have already been determined, in a creepy, inverse-carnivalesque borderland they have no known connection with, and least of all with the notorious Sheol Theatre, and its insidious, all-seeing, all-knowing impresario.
The story is an enchanting one, people by the bewitched, sceptical, and bewitching, beautifully woven by a fluidity of narrative that is poetic and skilfully jarring in turn – and sometimes concurrently. Mark Mayes’ stunning debut novel is one of those rare books that will transport you away from the reality where you picked up the book, and into a compelling and disturbing terrain where it’s not safe to subscribe to any clichés you might be expecting to find. None of those will be safe in the less-than-salubrious town of Grenze – or en route to it.
This mesmerising, and intriguing, is a multi-dimensional mystical fantasy – but not one for those looking for a cosy, traditional fairy tale. There are mysteries to be solved, pasts to be recovered, selves to be salvaged, and futures to be explored. You won’t know who to trust – or who to fear. Or if you should continue trusting or fearing them. These possibilities and quasi-realities are gradually unfurled in a novel that I found impossible to put down, such is the urgency of the story, and beauty of the prose, too beautifully crafted to be hurried or skim-read. The denouement of The Gift Maker is as multi-faceted as the story itself, which raises many questions about who we are, why we are, and our perceptions of reality itself. Next time you receive a gift that you didn’t expect, pause for a moment and dare to wonder.
Radcliff Gregory, Writer
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