“Languid, haunting, surreal, and utterly beautiful, this tale is in part a profound meditation on self-reflection and inner strength in the face, and in the painful grip, of abuse—and yet it is also so much more than that.”
Farah Rose Smith's new novel, Anonyma, may be a short read, but its page count is deceptive, for it is a deep and expansive piece of uncanny storytelling. Languid, haunting, surreal, and utterly beautiful, this tale is in part a profound meditation on self-reflection and inner strength in the face, and in the painful grip, of abuse—and yet it is also so much more than that.
Describing the plot is like trying to explain where to go once one reaches the rocky shore of an unfamiliar and distant land. Just as one can use the sunrise and sunset to point the directions of east and west, one can describe this novel as the narrative of the eponymous woman, seeking grace and release, while meanwhile being put through the torment and pain of an abusive relationship with a culturally-renowned “sorcerer of design,” Nicholas Bezalel.
There are interactions between characters, there are moments of deeply discomforting pain and violence, there are reflections and meditations, and fancies and escapes . . . but all of these details don’t remotely give one an idea of what it’s truly like to explore this narrative island.
These fancies and escapes are so much more than daydreams of a better life. The worlds that Anonyma sees and interacts with are wholly unlike anything one could possibly imagine, full of phantasmagorical wonders and horrors. In fact, a good portion of the third act of this novel takes place fully and deeply within these worlds, making for a literary voyage that’s as profoundly dizzying as it is enchantingly weird.
As with her other works, namely her 2018 novel The Almanac of Dust (Wraith Press), Smith continues to prove her skills as an utterly remarkable storyteller. Her style is in no way gaudy or verbose—rather, she paints with her words, rendering expansive and hallucinatory visions with every sentence.
“I am Anonyma. A ruin in this city, swept up by blackened rain. I cradle oblivion in my arms; am at war with clocks over lifetimes broken apart in silent stories. I am not without a kind of freedom—the freedom of suffering. But what is to be said of a woman who holds such depths of darkness within her? I am one of these, at best, and never without sight or sound to measure. Walking dead above the ground for years, after dismissal from the clouds, left sour. A bitter hallway of whispers, thick with the milk of memories. I bury myself with a daily kiss to scepters and bones. You have found me—bound, and quite alone—warring with the world falling around me.”
This novel also leaves quite an emotional impact. Although the scenes of abuse will no doubt be very triggering for some readers, they are not done for any kind of exploitative shock value, as is often an ill-advised and problematic storytelling technique in other works of fiction. Rather, even with the despair and pain that these scenes cause, they are finite—and flitting about between them is a sense of hope for Anonyma, who holds onto instances of strange beauty in her ugly world—and hope for her unborn daughter.
The book itself is aesthetically pleasing to behold, as well. Beyond the beautiful, evocative cover artwork by Narmeen Khalid, there are chapter break illustrations lovingly taken the pages of Raoul-Auger Feuillet’s 1700 book of ballroom and theatrical dance, Choregraphie, a perfect complement to the reader’s dance with Anonyma through her dark journey.
Anonyma is a breathtaking read, as profound and evocative as surreal visual art, and as graceful and mesmerizing as dance. With it, Farah Rose Smith proves, as with her previous works, that dreams can be experienced through prose. And like any dream, it is surreal, fleeting, and deeply personal, and it leaves the beholder yearning for more, long after it is finished.