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Book Review: An Dantomine Eerly by J.R.D Middleton

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The title, a reference to a mythic celestial escort, doesn’t exactly roll trippingly off the tongue. But the titular u-turn of phrase is about the only thing lacking the musicality and rhythmic giddiness and lyrical grace that otherwise characterizes a book in which:

We compound, lay flat, stretch, exchange in the medium of language’s intention, within the silent space throughout, we fluctuate throughout, at once, fluidly emergent. Only we did, we heard, only we saw, we spoke. ‘I am this and am this we.’ ‘Who are you?’ ‘…I? Ha, am An Dantomine Eerly…’

Suggestions Seussian and Joycean prompt us to add that the language’s seeming intention, the full meaning behind the enigmatic and experimental dream-vision surrealism of An Dantomine Eerly will not click in nor its alluring obscurities clear up with the knowledge that the novel is rooted in the 17th century Irish tradition of the Aisling. The old Irish poetic form, literally meaning “vision-poem,” is one in which the isle of Ireland appears in a vision to the poet, who foretells the future of the Irish people.

However, author J.R.D. Middleton is not a strict adherent to the tradition as he sails into the Celtic mystic, cherry-picking from the genre for elements of full effect and evocation. An account about the end of a poet’s life and what lies beyond, the tale is a mind-strangling though always kaleidoscopic and enticing exploration of existence in which the esoteric escort, the psychopomp, An Dantomine Eerly – Bringer of Death or Ascended Master, Boatman, Angel — guides the narrator, guides the reader, in a quest to trace the fate of dying Irish-American poet Dallin and his wife Aisling.

To seek is “the best way to begin.” Indeed, “This searching,” the narrator asserts in testament to the journey’s significance, “quickly became so much more than a perverse fascination with either the magical or the insane, because it was central to all that had forbid me the world and forbid the world from myself.”

As he was told in whispers and summons that came to him from time to time beyond the dark, “You have nothing left to lack.”  And marking An Dantomine Eerly’s transcendental romanticism and pervading sense of hallucinatory fever dream, the insidiousness takes in the ever-shifting perceptions of Middleton’s debut novel, including a change in personal identity (“I sank so far inside I passed through myself, stuck somewhere between all this and the other side. The disparate parts of me reformed into a whole,… a body… a weight,… a burden… a face,…”) and a transformation in interpersonal, external identities:

If Dallin was inside me – occasionally manifested in a realm that was mine or within something I accessed too – if that is how I was related to Dallin on the interior, then I now felt immersed in Aisling, as if she were everything external to me, everything outside my becoming interior, which included the exteriority of my body itself. 

Only by such transformation and transfiguration can we, to paraphrase an earlier reference, exchange in the medium of language’s intention, within the silent space throughout, fluctuating and becoming, at once, fluidly emergent. Only we did, we heard, only we saw, we spoke. Who are we?

We comprise the extraordinary An Dantomine Eerly, which rolls more trippingly off the tongue with each pronunciation.

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About Gordon Hauptfleisch