| 28 | a novel | twenty-eight years in the making | by Ilura Press co-founder and publisher, Christopher Lappas | surprising and eloquent | a mirror maze | emotional intensity | original, courageous, and memorable | a multi-layered work of genius |
"28 is very powerful and intense, questioning again and again all the ambivalences of life and living, of destiny, motivation, and consequence. The ending is both surprising and eloquent."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Christopher Lappas is director and co-publisher at Ilura Press. He has an academic background in the creative arts, media arts, publishing, and philosophy, and he holds a PhD in Creative Writing. He has been employed as a professional musician, songwriter, photographer, videographer, and newspaper editor-in-chief. His published works include poetry, interviews, reviews, advertising copy, plays, and short stories. Christopher has been a member of numerous university, not-for-profit, and Arts advisory boards and panels. He has several novels, in various stages of completion, that he intends to release over the coming years.
"Reading Lappas is like entering a mirror-maze: every turn offers endless possibilities."
REVIEWS & CRITIQUES
One of the highest praises I can offer for a debut novel is, when I have finished reading it, to immediately hope that the author writes another one.
28 is the central character of this complex work and she is an enigma—to herself, to the narrator, Scribe, and to the reader. However, Christopher Lappas treats us to three other important and strong characters: Scribe himself, Scribe’s young son Andre and Scribe’s X.
The number 28 is everywhere in the book: the title, the number of chapters, the floors of a building, almonds, beads and, of course, 28 herself. Even the number of pages of text is devisable exactly by 28 and Ilura Press has set the price at $28. The author also asserts that he took twenty-eight years to write the novel. There is a hint of Toni Jordan and Graeme Simsion in Scribe’s interest in numbers as he tries to make sense of his interactions with 28.
The principal setting for the novel is a hospital, with 28 inhabiting a room on the lowest level and Andre lying in a coma up on another level. We observe the characters emerging in their unique ways—28 to Scribe, Scribe to himself and, hopefully, Andre back into the world. Only X seems to be stuck in a dystopian world of her own construction.
However, as the novel progresses, very little is as it first seemed. Scribe and 28 both struggle with demons and issues from their pasts. This could have been a straightforward, evolving love story, but it isn’t. If anything, it is a story of the development of the love that 28 and Scribe each develop for themselves, or at least the possibility of it. The reader is also left wondering whether X will ever change her attitude and behaviour, especially towards Scribe.
The narrator is given the name Scribe by 28, as he documents stories she tells him, which may or may not be 28’s own story.
Lappas appears to have taken great care with the way he has structured this novel and with the lay-out and design of the physical book, including the number of pages. Even the numbering system of the twenty-eight chapters reflects the recurring references to levels in buildings. So too the things said by the characters and what is later revealed about them, or what the reader may suspect about them. On the very first page, 28 says, “Oh, I won’t fall, I never fall.” The possibility of falling recurs throughout the novel, and then chapter twenty-six is called ‘Falling In’.
Scribe is drawn in to 28’s stories as he records them and has the rest of his life on hold, waiting for Andre to wake out of his coma. He muses, “Should I question what I write? Should I question my sanity when my discussions with 28 are the most tangible aspects of my life right now? … Visions of my son are sadly like a dream, but I must try to make them my reality.”
‘Reality’ and ‘sanity’ and what these mean are an important part of the novel. The reader is repeatedly invited to ask, “Whose reality?” and “What is sanity?”
Although it is not important to this as a novel standing on its own, I was led to wonder how much autobiographical material has found its way into the narrator’s own narrative. Scribe talks about his Greek-Turkish antecedents and the author has his name on the cover of the book as ΧΡΗΣΤΟΣ ΛΑΠΠΑΣ—a nod to his own background.
On the publisher’s website, Christopher Lappas says about the process of writing this book: “When I began writing 28, one of my intentions was to create a plotless novel, or at least to come as close as possible to what could be considered plotless. I soon found it was impossible to achieve anything like I had intended.” In the process, he has created something unlike any novel I have ever read—it is almost a deconstruction of a novel. Yet the characters are there in all their complexity. It is a wonderful exploration of humanity, relationship, what it means to be sane and whether it is possible to escape oneself.
I found reading this book a delightful adventure. It is complex and unusual and had me wanting to keep reading (in bed), even as my brain was telling me to turn out the light and get some sleep. Having enjoyed the adventure, I now look forward to reading it again to try and understand more thoroughly the way the author has constructed this multi-layered work of genius.
- Review appeared on Medium
... We are in the care of a writer who has a keen interest in metaphysics. The narrator, the divorced former-husband of a woman who hates him and the father of a beloved son in a coma (feeling unloved himself - with good reason, as it turns out) meets and talks with, through several episodes, a patient referred to solely as "28" on his regular visits to his son in hospital. Their conversations bear a resemblance, in format and intention, to the "dialogue" approach to philosophical investigations in, for instance, Plato, though the content is specific to the lives of these two people.
Though no one would refer to this as a "plot" novel, the usual functions of a plot are indeed present, and serve to keep us turning the pages. Some of this is achieved by our curiosity about this woman "28", and the tension created within the dialogue episodes, leading to the moment when the narrator discovers that he loves the woman he thinks he's been talking with, only to discover further that he has fallen in love with a fiction. Also contributing to this narrative drive is the reader's interest in discovering whether the narrator's son will recover from his coma, and whether the ex-wife's excessive hatred and verbal abuse will lead to violence, or to an attempt to separate him from his son. The question "what is truth?" is not a simple one.
The reader is aware that the main forces driving the novel are questions about identity, about the meaning of life and truth, and about responsibilities toward one's own decisions regarding living or dying, struggling or giving up. That the narrator falls in love with a fiction is entirely appropriate to the literary themes that are threaded through the novel. The narrator is not only a writer, but is a writer intensely engaged in the problems and techniques of writing fiction, to the extent that he makes these concerns part of his fictional conversation. On the one hand we have a writer who writes and thinks about fiction as a literary concept, and on the other hand we have a woman who lives a fiction. In both cases fiction is a journey in search of truth.
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