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The Ascent of Isaac Steward

Mike French

Average Review Rating Average Rating 8/10 (1 Review)
Book Details

Publisher : Cauliay Publishing & Distribution

Published : 2011

Copyright : Mike French 2000

ISBN-10 : PB 0-9568810-1-7
ISBN-13 : PB 978-0-9568810-14

Publisher's Write-Up

The Ascent of Isaac Steward is the remarkable and extraordinary debut novel from the senior editor of the prestigious literary magazine, The View From Here. Written with a literary, lyrical voice, the book follows Isaac Steward in an emotional and original tale as he struggles to deal with the resurfacing of a suppressed memory of a car crash a year ago which killed his wife, Rebekah, his son, Esau, and left his other son, Jacob, in a coma.

Isaac becomes increasingly dysfunctional and delusional as the story unfolds in a hypnotic and startling way bringing into play childhood memories of a Punch and Judy show and the revelation from his half-brother, Ishmael, that in order to be reunited with Rebekah he must be brought to a tree from his father's wood called The Dandelion Tree. To help him, Isaac slips in and out of being Major Tom Donaldson, a SAS commander fashioned by his mind to help him regress back to a time of naiveté and happiness before the accident. But Donaldson brings only death and violence and Isaac struggles to keep a grip on reality as he descends into his mind and starts to question if he himself has already died.

Atmospheric and sensual and dealing with universal desires of love and reconciliation, The Ascent of Isaac Steward is reminiscent of the surrealist literary experiments of James Joyce but highly readable. Readers will be astounded, transfixed and immersed in the world long after turning the last page.

'Moving and lyrical, original and hypnotic - Mike French’s The Ascent of Isaac Steward is a remarkable debut novel.'

Michael Kimball

'Reminiscent of the surrealist literary experiments of James Joyce’s Finnegan's Wake but blessedly readable The Ascent of Isaac Steward is insanely ambitious, startlingly odd, boldly conceived and executed with tremendous confidence. One of the most extraordinary novels I've ever read.'

R. N. Morris
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Reader Reviews

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Review by Chrissi (310811) Rating (8/10)

Review by Chrissi
Rating 8/10
Right, I will open my review by stating that I do not normally read anything like this, being someone who consciously avoids anything literary or which has been nominated for a prize, I generally go for stuff which is plain do-not-engage-brain entertaining. You can appreciate my trepidation when faced with a book like this, but I have sat and read it in one sweep, and whilst I cannot claim to have understood or followed it all, I liked the imagery and the whole ambience of the novel. Much like a dream when things flow in and out of one another without you thinking whether or not things are weird you just accept and when you awaken it is the impressions that you are left with, not whether there is any sense there.

This is the story of a man whose subconscious is attempting to protect him from the massive grief that he is experiencing after a car accident which resulted in the loss of his family. In his memories there are times when he was unaware of how awful life can be, and those experiences provide a framework used to prevent unpleasant memories from being faced, although somehow his mind is becoming more fragile and vulnerable to the ingress of these hidden, damped down memories.

The story of Isaac Steward is expressed as a narrative; he does not know what is happening in his own mind, and as such it is more distanced, allowing you to observe but not interact, allowing us to better appreciate the images offered up to us. We are not asked to judge the man and his life, we actually know very little about him, but we are shown his capacity for love, illustrated by scenes with his wife and young sons.

The story left me with some very powerful evocative images; to an adult, the harshness of a Punch and Judy show as seen through the eyes of a child; the idea of a tree and what it means to us at different times in our life; how memories are distilled by time into single expressions regardless of role or circumstance. As someone unaccustomed to reading literary fiction, I do not know whether a series of beautifully clear impressions and images in the head of the reader are an acceptable goal for a writer, but as a reader, I rather enjoyed my afternoon inside the head of Isaac Steward.
Chrissi (31st August 2011)

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