Once in a while, a novel comes that defies categorisation - that's Nikhil Singh's debut novel Taty Went West. It has been described by Lauren Beukes as 'a hallucinogenic post-apocalyptic carnival ride'. When I first read it I felt like it was Alice in Wonderland on crack, but to be honest it's more like Alice in Wonderland on what seems like never-ending crack. Told in 4-parts, Taty Went West is an absolutely terrifying and thrilling read.
It follows Taty who runs away from her home in the suburbs of the Lowlands Into the Outzone to escape from something terrible she has done. Taty is around fifteen/sixteen at the beginning of the story. Once in the Outzone she is captured by Miss Muppet, and taken to the malicious imp, Alphonse Guava's, lair where she meets a number of interesting characters including Number Nun (a robotic, sex slave nun), the zombie Typhoid Mary, The Sugar Twins - a pair of 'Detachable Siamese', and the overweight Michelle 'nailed to a large wooden cross'.
The fact is the world and characters Singh has created is completely bonkers, and you can only wonder what goes on in that beautiful mind of Singh's to create it. Also, there are a lot of characters in this novel - some of which I have named already, and there are more, and also many settings. Surprisingly it wasn't too confusing, but more than that Singh was able to make every character and very setting quite distinct.
Now Alphonse the imp is the Oga of the Soft House - a sort of twisted brothel - and Taty, having been captured by Miss Muppet, will come in handy for Alphonse who wants her to work for him, particularly because Taty is special:
' ... these sno-globes were something like our emotions sensations and mental emanations rendered invisible' and Taty was 'not just any sno-globe.'
'See, when most people are receptors, you are, in fact, a transmitter...'
'You can be tuned to create specific sensations and emotions within people - just the sight of you playing tennis in the right skirt, if amplified correctly, could be enough to kill a person'. p38
You see Alphonse was in the business of pleasure, and young Taty had something that would take his customer's pleasure to another level.
While all this is going on and Taty was settling into her new life, in another dimension - at the Clock Shop - Dr.Dali had found something sinister for a rival of Alphonse, Mister Sister. Dr. Dali had an 'inter-dimensional Venus Flytrap' that enabled him to capture foreign specimens - and what he had found, the Symbiote, was really going to take the pleasure game to a whole 'nother level.
Now I said Singh created beautiful characters in his world, well here's a glimpse:
A figure crawled and crept like a gecko along the outer walls of the lifeguard station. It resembled a lanky teenage boy, except that it was possessed of slick, green skin, similar to that of a tree frog. The amphibious resemblance did not end there. The arms and legs of the being were double-, if not triple-jointed and possessed of a rubbery flexibility. An extra elbow and knee joint lent the legs and arms a vague 'z' shape when they flexed. When the creature stopped moving, these limbs folded up like wet origami and it assumed a sickening sort of yogic position, not unlike that of a grasshopper. Another dramatic feature of the thing were its long antennae, which quivered in spasms upon its head. The antennae themselves were gigantic and feathery, like a moth's, fluttering spastically against surfaces. The eyes of the symbiote were disproportionate, bulbous and reflective, Nictitating membranes licked across their surfaces while complex sets of mandibles operated below. Someone had dressed the thing in loud, neon surf shorts, whether for a joke or modesty it was hard to tell. (p85)
I mean really Singh has a way of making you feel like you are right there. I really can picture that symbiote in its loud, neon surf short.
Now with the discovery of the symbiotes, let's just say that Taty running away from home and being kidnapped by Miss Muppet and becoming a pleasure transmitter for Alphonse Guava is not the worst thing that happens to her - or, for that matter, the other characters in this books. You see, the symbiotes are special - it 'can evoke a sensual bliss unparalleled on this plane', and 'also deliver a state of almost perpetual orgasm' (p. 86). And so I ask you, dear reader - what would you give and do for a state of almost perpetual orgasm?
Taty Went West definitely takes you on a journey along with Taty - who is quite an interesting character. She's not really a damsel in distress - even with all the things she experiences. She is also quite aware of the decisions she makes, and it seems that in spite of all that happens to her once she's in the Outzone she doesn't regret her decision to leave the Lowlands. I was also amazed by her bravery, and hurt by the amount of abuse and sexual violence she experienced once in the Outzone and beyond. Yes, this book makes it clear that the Outzone might be a place that gives you freedom, but that could come at a price, especially with regards to your body. I should also add that every character in this novel is flawed - some more than others; and some (read Alphonse) even quite a bit more selfish than you can imagine. Then again someone like him never painted himself as an angel.
In all this, I am yet to mention the absolutely stunning illustrations, which add another layer to this novel. And don't be fooled! I said at the beginning that Taty Went West defies categorisation. Well, just because the heroine is a teenage girl doesn't make this a YA novel. Similarly, just because there are illustrations doesn't make this a graphic novel. Taty Went West in the general sense is a Sci-Fi and Fantasy novel - although I read it as more Fantasy (a very trippy one), but to be honest, what Taty Went West really is, is a novel that each reader needs to decipher for themselves. Regardless, it is one that must be read and every word and illustration savoured.
|The Soft House. © Nikhil Singh|
Indeed, while it isn't a short book - there are 408 pages - I read it in one day because I couldn't put it down. I was fascinated, intrigued and terrified by this world Nikhil Singh had envisioned. Taty Went West is an absolutely stunning debut and I can honestly say I didn't expect what I read. This is certainly not your average teenage girl on an adventure story. It's dark, it's twisted, it's morbid, it's painful, it's heart-wrenching, and I loved it - every single bit of it.