The Swallowed World is a tour de force: taking the reader on a journey that is both realistic and allegorical in equal measure. This is the hell of humanity struggling for survival in a drowning world, and highlighting a fact with which we are all sadly too familiar: adversity brings out the worst in most people. As sea levels rise and swallow the land, so the evil that men do swallows their capacity for good. Hope lingers, however in another human characteristic – curiously highlighted in a genetically engineered version of ourselves: our capacity for fellow feeling, for empathy. It is something that even in the most terrible of circumstances the old, brutal and scarred are still capable of, though they may need to be reconnected to it by the young.
It is of course axiomatic that the creators of imagined worlds suspend their readers’ disbelief by supplying them with detail credible enough to bring that world to life. Tyler Bumpus takes this to a level I have not come across before, with intricately and convincingly detailed descriptions of the history and geography of this “swallowed” world. 20% of the book is a fascinating glossary of terms, carefully defined and cross-referenced, which not only enlightens and illuminates this volume but I suspect is an essential reference tool for future volumes in the series. There are also two appendices purporting to be by other writers from within this world, the second of which is the printed form of a fragment of a draft manuscript containing the author’s edits, the odd spelling mistake duly highlighted in academic fashion [sic] and an increasing number of ‘illegibilities’ as the writer falls further under the spell of the book he is studying and his nemesis approaches.
Each of the characters in this tale of a world that may well be coming has his or her own distinctive voice, and the language is rich, colourful and often poetic. There is precision, wit and clarity. His ‘Uncle’ character brought to mind Colonel Walter E Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, though by then, it seemed to me, we were in blood stepped in so far as to have waded a fair way into Dante’s Inferno. But just as it seems inevitable that every hope and decency must be burned and purged away in this purgatory of damned souls, salvation of a sort is found in the keeping of a promise and – finally – a selfless act.
This is a brilliantly written, very closely observed, richly detailed and – most importantly – deeply philosophical work from a writer whose career I will follow with interest. I recommend it – and him – to you without reservation.