Martin John and the Demon Mother

Stephen Osborne

In Martin John (Biblioasis), Anakana Schofield’s new novel, the reader is beckoned, saluted, enticed and then drawn inexorably into the life of a demented young man whose spiritual and magical obsessions are expressed in sexual fantasy and attacks on women; his life is a convoluted trail of escapes and traps, cul de sacs and doubling-backs so expertly narrated that we cannot stop reading; at times we fail to distinguish his guilty feeling from our own. But the deepest and darkest elements in the life of Martin John are embodied in the figure of his mother, a Mother whose voice is everywhere in the narration: she is the Genius of the book, both hinge and door. Through her we begin to see Martin John in the thrall not only of his mother but more profoundly of the Great Mother, the source of life and death: lives of mother and son are entangled in a dance of question and answer, lies and near lies, deceptions of the self and the other; one thinks of the nameless raging mother of Grendel, the monster slain by Beowulf; the Mother of Martin John stands to him as the Sphinx stands to Oedipus: a Demon demanding an impossible answer from a son too cunning for either of them; the Demon throws herself (deceptively) into the pit; Oedipus is fated to kill his father and marry his mother. It is Martin John’s fate to be supplied the answers by his mother (who is supplied, of course, by the Author) for the questions that she asks again and again; the questions asked as well by police, nurses, doctors: the book opens with a list of answers presented as a tiny index on page 1:

Martin John has made mistakes.

1. Check my card.

2. Rain will fall.

3. Harm was done.

4. It put me in the Chair.

Martin John is the best novel I have read in years: long after reading it I feel that I am still reading it, being read by it.

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Stephen Osborne

Stephen Osborne is a co-founder and contributing publisher of Geist. He is the award-winning writer of Ice & Fire: Dispatches from the New World and dozens of shorter works, many of which can be read at


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