The Imagination Thief
The Imagination Thief (novel)
The Imagination Thief by Rohan Quine is about a web of secrets, triggered by the stealing and copying of people’s imaginations and memories. It’s about the magic that can be conjured up by images of people, in imagination or on film; the split between beauty and happiness in the world; and the allure of various kinds of power. It celebrates some of the most extreme possibilities of human imagination, personality and language, exploring the darkest and brightest flavours of beauty living in our minds.
For some great reviews of The Imagination Thief, click here.
The text of The Imagination Thief is identical in its paperback and ebook formats. Beside that text, the ebook format also contains some photographic content, plus links to films and to a video-book version and an audio-book version of the novel.
So what’s The Imagination Thief all about?
Well, it’s illegal, immoral and fattening. It’s joyfully dark and wayward, and no proper reading for the innocent of mind or the fragile of ears, being the written equivalent of a five-layered chocolate cake containing an entire bottle of Wray & Nephew over-proof rum (63% alcohol by volume) and a cocktail of controlled substances. Category-wise, it is literary fiction with a touch of magical realism and a dusting of horror.
Frankly, The Imagination Thief commanded me, and it pretended that our joint mission was going to be a straightforward one. This mission was simply to push imagination and language towards their extremes, in order to explore and illuminate the beauty, darkness and mirth of this predicament called life, where we all seem to have been dropped without sufficient consultation ahead of time.
The mission was a three-pronged one, each individual prong being quite a long prong, but no longer than the other two: (1) to illuminate the world, to the best of our finite abilities, using language in new and old ways, and thereby leave the world infinitesimally better than it was beforehand; (2) to aim and attune our ears (all twelve of them) as clearly as possible to whatever the highest artistic potential might be, then bring down the richest results from that place, then give those results the truest and most beautiful form we could create; and (3) to make an honest account of the darkness and pain in the world, while at the same time being a vote for life (maybe even an absolute blast of fun along the way).
Seven themes in The Imagination Thief
(1) An ever-deeper exploration, tending to theft, of people’s imaginations, memories and personalities.
(2) A web of secrets and lies regarding exactly who may be aware of who may be spying into whom.
(3) The use of creative imagination for the purpose of transcending the everyday world, through igniting aliveness, wonder and beauty, both in oneself and in others.
(4) The iconic aura and allure that filmed and photographic images can conjure up and spin around their subjects.
(5) The disjunction between beauty and happiness: how the many kinds of beauty in the world, within people and outside them, seem to exist independent of the levels of misery/happiness or pain/pleasure in people.
(6) The disjunctions inherent in an onscreen presence: (1) possessing an incorporeal public self, in addition to the real-life flesh-and-blood self; and (2) being sealed off in the small and unreal world of a recording-studio, in order to be minutely visible to numerous unknown viewers in the real and much wider world outside.
(7) The glamour of power—whether corporate or gang-based, physical or onscreen.
What will the gentle reader get from reading it?
I’m glad you asked. The answer, as best I can give it, is that in the course of celebrating the darkest and brightest possibilities of human imagination, personality and language, The Imagination Thief reflects our varied internal lives in ways they haven’t been reflected before. It unearths surprising beauty and unexpected love, from behind and within the brutality of the world. It demands focused attention, but it repays this investment richly, even in a tough economy. It’s serious fun. You can read it as a linear novel with a coherent plot, but you can also read it by dipping and diving throughout; and wherever you dive in, The Imagination Thief will shimmer right back at you with love and poison, toughness and light—I promise!
Why did I write it?
In writing it, my intention was to help us illuminate the world, to the best of my abilities, using language, and thereby to leave the world infinitesimally richer and more beautiful than it was before. I aimed to illuminate the darkest and brightest corners of human imagination; to wring as much beauty as possible from this harshly-designed life into which we all seem to have been thrown without being sufficiently consulted ahead of time; and then to explore and interrogate that beauty with rigour, sensuality and humour. Although the novel pays unflinching attention to some overpoweringly dark aspects of our existence here, I believe it also manages, in places, to suggest ways in which we may transcend that darkness while still preserving emotional and aesthetic honesty, with love and sensuality and a healthy dose of mirth along the way.
What messages does it convey?
Among less summarisable things, I suspect The Imagination Thief may be suggesting that one way to increase our chances of raising our heads above the asphalt (our own heads and others’) is for all of us to put active and serious energy into inhabiting and exercising our creative imaginations, in whatever ways we’re able to, because this tends to help the good stuff happen.
Also that there are glorious beauties, sensualities and dark riches in each of us—and those are treasures that each of us should love and own and inhabit, rather than forgetting them or ignoring them or being frightened of them.
Each of us is essentially alone; and unimaginable levels of cruelty and suffering are able to target any one of us at a moment’s notice, if they’re inclined to. Yet love, beauty and humour all continue to insist on arising between us, around us and within us, making riches available to many of us, if we reach for them. But perhaps what’s most bewitching is the glorious, multitudinous, fucked-up fascination of our whole situation. —I mean, look at it, really: what is that all about?…
The last thing to pick out here is perhaps that there are often two parallel narratives in our lives: the external narrative of coherence, discipline and balance, that we use in everyday dealings and interactions as civilised participants in society (suggested by the more straightforward titles of the novel’s ten Parts, which are numbered I-X); and the less coherent, less disciplined and less balanced narratives that run healthy riot within our imaginations (suggested by the more whimsical titles of the novel’s 120 mini-chapters, which are numbered 1-120).
One big cupcake, cooked up out of film, literary-fictional text, video, photos and audio
For a quick video introduction, head for “What is The Imagination Thief?”. Otherwise, I’d say in short that this tale is one big digital cupcake, cooked up out of film, video, audio, photos and literary-fictional text (this last ingredient being much the most analogue in the whole digital recipe), all baked together into an ebook combined with a website. You can just read the text, which can stand alone; or you can consume the lot, either in linear sequence or dipping and diving. The novel is also available in paperback, where the very same text stands alone and self-sufficient.
Its convulsive self-assembly, sharkiness and Napoleonic tendencies
Some of its characters just came knocking on the door from somewhere, demanding I cast them in exactly the form they’d showed up in, such as Evelyn, Angel and Damian; others shimmered tentatively into definition after I’d cast them, such as Pippa, Alaia and Kim. The whole book is strange and extreme and probably shouldn’t be allowed, but in all its media there was an odd quality of convulsive inevitability in its self-assembly, which made me tend towards trusting its own diva-instincts regarding how it wanted to be baked. The book’s narrator Jaymi has an experience similar to this, while he’s dealing with the entertainment mogul Marc in mini-chapter 5: “I observe another inspiration assemble itself in my mind and climb to its feet like a self-erecting tripod. Forget walking with the angels now, we’ve moved on from that. This has the feeling of a shark swimming right through me; those tripod legs have streamlined into fins…” (I think I may have borrowed that shark element there from something written somewhere by JT LeRoy / Laura Albert about his/her enchanting novel Sarah.) Another comparison would be the real-life occasion when an army general told his higher-ups, referring to the young Napoleon: “Promote this man, or he will promote himself without you.” If I was that general, this little book was Napoleon.
Dan Holloway’s extended interview with me, at his eight cuts gallery, about The Imagination Thief
For Dan Holloway’s extended interview with me at his eight cuts gallery about all these aspects of The Imagination Thief, see here.