“Planet Purgatory” Benedict J Martin

I recently read and very much enjoyed Ben Martin’s first book ‘Charlie Robot’ so I had high hopes for his second book, and it lived up to my expectations. It’s a very different tale, though still told in the first person – this time by David –in a curiously unadorned and compelling way. David is on a ‘planet’ inhabited by flawed people – including both his parents – and ‘monsters’ he has every reason to fear. He doesn’t know how they all got there or why things happen in the ‘spaced-out’ way they do, but successive dilemmas regularly push him into making decisions about what to do for the best. He nurses a suspicion about the true nature and purpose of their current location, which a succession of weird events appears to confirm.

The tale unfolds much like a dream in which anything can happen and frequently does: events and characters prompted by fragments of memories engendered in a different time and place. Like John Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ it’s an allegorical journey: one that travels through a kind of dystopian dream undertaken by someone with deep regrets about events and behaviour in a past life and who now by virtue of this ‘progress’ is moving towards a growing understanding of how he can atone for previous wrongs and earn the chance of a brighter future in a better place.

Were you to accept the challenge of imagining what your own journey through a personal ‘purgatory’ might be like, what might you envisage? Keeping that question in mind adds an interesting dimension to the story: because David’s journey is the one Ben Martin has decided to send him on. Its path winds through locations from children’s fairy tales and fantasies peopled with characters that the reader partly recognises while having no idea what might happen next.

The author writes well. “Rosie was a revenant… exactly the same animal as before the attack, right down to the half-moon-shaped spot on her tongue and talent for passing gas.” “…pupilless, mother of pearl eyes that seemed to take everything in with the same level of bewilderment.” “…fear and the pain in my leg conspiring to thicken time into an agonizingly slow drip.” “I felt a kernel of remorse for what I’d done, but I stepped on it, extinguishing it like an old cigarette.”

It is as if ‘God’ has given a reborn David his mission, but the devil is bent on stopping him. It’s a story like something out of a storybook. Do read it for yourself. It’s ‘ending’ will surprise you.