James Cristina’s fluent and vivid writing makes this experimental novel compelling although it challenges easy comprehension.
James Cristina’s Antidote to a Curse.
Book covers seldom get a mention in book reviews perhaps because many of them fail to reflect the essence of the book they envelop or perhaps because they are the work of the publisher more than the work of the author. However, cover designer Peter Lo has made such a brilliant choice in selecting the painting Bizarre Love Triangle by Alix Soubiran-Hall for the cover of Antidote To A Curse that he deserves a special mention. The man who appears on the cover is surely how James Cristina imagined Silvio Portelli, his protagonist, to look. The cat and the bird in the painting form the other two vertices of the bizarre love triangle and reference the cat and birds that also populate this novel.
Silvio is back in Melbourne, a city which he loves. He is 29 years old and aspires to be a writer. He sees his face in a mirror which is labelled 'a typical person with HIV' but he does not yet know the anxiously awaited result of a recent HIV test. He is job hunting and wears his best suit to a job interview even though he knows it will be a failure. He prefers to spend his time with his new friend Zlatko at the well loved Greek restaurant, Stalactites, or at the sex shop where they first met. He boards with Nancy, an older woman who loves birds and also has a black cat called Ludovico – who is not a bird-lover. All these experiences seem fairly normal for a young gay unemployed man, and so they are, except for when his dreams and imagination transport him and the reader to Bosnia-Herzegovina and the carnage and devastation of that region, or wander off into other fantastic musings.
Part dreams, part imaginings, part stories squeezed out of Zlatko, the more fantastical aspects of the novel are nevertheless narrated in a matter-of-fact manner as if, for instance, it were completely natural for the black cat, Ludovico, to write a letter to Nancy about his desire to help rebuild Mostar, a town named for its recently destroyed ancient bridge, or indeed as though there were nothing strange for a cat to actively participate in human affairs as an almost-human albeit with some remaining feline features and tendencies.
Nancy has an aviary and the various allusions to birds in Antidote to a Curse are symbolic of everything from imprisonment and freedom to judgement and memory. When Zlatko confesses to a crime he committed to save his own life, Silvio notes how a 'finch returned, hovered precariously above his shoulder ... its right eye a multifaceted diamond, a red one’. Zlatko had 'wanted to move on, but the finch settled on his shoulder’, as if to protest his crime.
It is Silvio's natural anxiety at the outcome of his HIV test that pulses through and informs the flights of fancy of this novel. His uncertainty about his future is perhaps alleviated by his ambitions as a writer, by his interactions with others, and by his strange involvement in their reconstructed or imagined backgrounds. Cristina’s fluent and vivid writing makes this experimental novel compelling throughout although the confluence of the real and the fantastical sometimes challenge easy comprehension.
4 stars ★★★★
Antidote to a Curse
By James Cristina
Format: ISBN: 978-0-925760-03-3
Trade PB 256pp
Release / Publication Date: 01 /07 /2018
Categories: Fiction, New and Recent
Transit Lounge Publishing