Only Forward by Michael Marshall Smith (book review).

OK, so this is the part of the review when I’m meant to write a brief synopsis of the novel. Which is normally pretty easy to do as most novels have an easy to describe plot, this one is not that easy. So Stark is a guy who is there to help when Something starts to go wrong in your life and, yes, that is meant to be capitalised.

Stark lives in a very weird world where each different neighbourhood is very different to the other. For example, he lives in Colour where everyone colour co-ordinates with their surroundings and you have to wear certain colours at certain times of day. As I said, Stark helps people when Something crops up in their life, the kind of Something that you can’t just hide in a corner from, it will find you and it will shred your brain. The best thing I can suggest is that you just read the book and prepare yourself for some weird things to go on that will make no sense whatsoever. You have been warned!

Right, now we’ve kind of got the synopsis out of the way I can let you know what I thought of this standalone novel. I felt that this book was like a Jasper Fforde book but with a lot more violence, swearing and general weirdness. It almost feels like I imagine an acid trip would feel at certain points, to the point where I got a little bit of a headache.

There were so many wonderful ideas that could on their own have become novels but they were all shoehorned into this one book, I’m getting dizzy just thinking about it. For example, there is the most hilarious subversive elevator you’ll ever find in a book. Plus people who have been given a genetic death sentence for crimes have their remaining time displayed on their forehead in green or red numbers. Often you’ll read something in this book that has no explanation whatsoever, which makes things really interesting. Often, I wanted to know more about why something was the way it was, but you just have to keep going with the book knowing you will never get that explanation.

My favourite bits of the books were the descriptions of the different neighbourhoods, each was just so odd and so well defined. I really wanted to know more about how this had happened and how many neighbourhoods there were. My least favourite element was that we were coming at this from the point of view of a bit of an idiot who felt like it was fine to tell you he knew we needed to know more about a situation, but he wasn’t going to tell us at that point.

This did get wearing after a time and I just wanted to yell at him to tell us! I also found that some bits of this book were really uncomfortable to read about with lots of body horror, plus peculiar dream scenes. We definitely go to some interesting and terrifying places with Stark, some of which took a while to process.

Overall, I’m genuinely not sure if I can say that I enjoyed this book or not. Some of the places it went were quite overwhelming. Plus it felt like stream of consciousness at some points which I’m not a massive fan of. I’m glad I’ve read it but I don’t think I’ll be reaching for more by this author any time soon.

Sarah Bruch

May 2020

(pub: HarperVoyager, 2015. 310 page paperback. Price: £ 9.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-00811-744-3)

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