Sunday, July 26, 2009
In a dark, chaotic and dusty second hand bookshop, where the shelves were so close together that I had to shuffle sideways to get between them and, when I did, it was almost impossible to read the spines of the books that were pressed up to my nose, on a day when the rain was icy and the wind strong enough to knock you over, I came across a book that I hadn't thought about in many years.
Theodore Roszak's novel Flicker was passed around the film society that I was part of during my undergraduate years at university. We were all film nuts and aspiring film makers and this book tapped into a those interests at the time. It also scared the bejesus out of me. When I came across it again, I had to buy it, if only to see how I would find it more than ten years later. Would the book that I found terrifying and disturbing at twenty years old have the same effect on me now?
The short answer is 'no', or maybe 'kind of, but not really'.
Flicker is the story of Jonathan Gates, film lover and academic, who is strangely attracted to the films of a forgotten B-grade director, Max Castle. Gates devotes his career to unearthing and studying Castle's films and finds that they contain some very strange subliminal techniques. Through his studies, Gates is also lead to the Orphans of the Storm, a shadowy religious organisation with a history reaching back to medieval Europe and the Cathars.
Well, it wouldn't be a good conspiracy if the Cathars didn't show up at some point.
If Flicker sounds kind of schlocky and cliched, well it is. But this is quality schlock. The writing is decent and there are lots of references to and discussions about classic films for film nerds to enjoy. The characters are also a cut above the usual airport fare. And I still got a bit creeped out by the horror elements. Roszak tries very hard to shock the reader. As a twenty year old he had me eating out of the palm of his hand. On this reading I was much more aware of being manipulated and much more amused by some of the sillier aspects of the plot, but at times I still had a chill down the spine.
A part of me is disappointed that I didn't leave my memory of Flicker alone. I could have walked around for the rest of my life remembering it as an amazingly brilliant book. But my curiosity got the better of me, and for that I have had the interesting experience of going back and being able to judge the taste of myself as a much less experienced reader. The years of reading in between my first and second reading of Flicker have stood me in good stead. In the intervening years I've definitely become a more discerning and critical reader. Thankfully though, I do still occasionally get swept up in a novel these days in just the same uncritical way I did as a twenty year old reading Flicker for the first time.