Superunknown: Of Fairytales and Grunge

Superunknown

And now for something completely different.

Superunknown: Of Fairytales and Grunge was written by G.C. Huxley and first published in 2014. It is an existentialist, absurdist novella which focuses on a teenage girl searching for meaning in her life. The story stands alone, so you don’t have to read any of Huxley’s other work to fully appreciate it.

Em has recently moved to the sleepy town of Lyra’s Watch and feels like an outsider. No one really makes any effort to make her feel welcome and she just feels as though she’s going through the motions. As one of her friends introduces her to grunge music, she begins to worry that her life will wind up being as meaningless as the song lyrics suggest.

However, it’s not long before Em meets Eido. Initially, she hates him. His arrogance and seeming perfection just rub her up the wrong way. However, she finds herself to drawn to him as she realises that he’s not what he seems. Eido just seems to know things; things that cause the adults that he speaks with to behave very strangely. Em starts to wonder if he has the answers that she seeks.

Things become stranger still as Em is approached by a mysterious old man who claims to be a time traveller. The man claims that he has come in search of Eido who is revered as a messiah in his own time period. Eido is the one person who understands the Idea, the core principal behind time travel. However, all traces of Eido vanished before the end of the 20th Century and the time traveller has come to find out why…

I’ll just begin with a small note of caution. Huxley considers this novella to be suitable for all ages but I’m not convinced that this is actually the case. I’m not really sure who the target audience for Superunknown actually is. While the main characters are teens, the story’s text density and complex themes would make it inaccessible for many teenagers. I personally think that this book would hold greater appeal to people who were teenagers in the 90s as they would be best placed to appreciate the pop culture references and the general portrayal of the decade’s mood.

Superunknown: Of Fairytales and Grunge is one of those novels where the idea holds a lot more appeal than its execution. To focus on the positive first, the philosophical themes really are interesting. The story uses its setting to its advantage in this, capturing the general feel of the 90s through the macrocosm of grunge music. It explores how the music reflected the attitude of the youth of the era (or possibly visa versa) through a general sense of ennui and the idea that existence is inherently without meaning.

Many of the characters struggle to find something to fill their life, as exemplified in Ms. Clason and her constant reliance on a self-help book. However, knowing the ultimate question doesn’t really seem to help either. The characters that hear Eido’s message all respond to it with anger or despair, leading to reader to come to the conclusion that perhaps the meaning of life is something that one is intended to seek but never grasp.

To fully appreciate this message, a little research is in order. Throughout the novel, several specific songs are referenced (most significantly Superunknown by Soundgarden). I’d really advise you to seek these out, listen to the lyrics and have them playing in the background while you read certain scenes. Not only does this help to build the atmosphere but often the lyrics contain hints towards the twist that will only become clear to the reader over the last two chapters. If you read through this story without reference to the specific songs, you definitely miss out on something.

However, while the ideas are complex, I didn’t really think that they were developed well within the novel. Superunknown is really just a dressed up philosophical essay and, while that might be interesting for some, this is a blog for young adult literature and I feel the need to judge it accordingly. The ideas presented by the novella are very interesting but the story in which they are presented is particularly bland on the whole.

The largest issue is that nothing really happens within the story. While there are science fiction elements in the appearance of the unnamed time traveller and the Salvation – people from the future who worship Eido as the messiah – neither of these are really developed or explained within the story. Really, the focus is on Em going about her daily business. She goes to school, meets a boy, helps him flee from people who are pursuing him (though the reason why they are pursuing him is never clear) and eventually heads to a random Japanese festival that’s taking place in Lyra’s Watch (again, this isn’t very well explained) for the climax.

With a little more explanation perhaps the story could have been serviceable but, unfortunately, what we got was a bit of a mess. While I understand that this is intended to be absurdist fiction, that doesn’t mean that the story doesn’t have to be coherent. Take for example the work of Kurt Vonnegut. At times, I felt as though Huxley was trying to emulate the likes of Slaughterhouse Five yet that novel is concise and always relatively easy to follow. I found myself getting really lost towards the end of Superunknown.

I’m not going to spoil the climax for you here as it does contain rather a large twist, however I found myself left a little confused on the whole. I read the last couple of chapters through a few times but still feel as though I’m missing something vital. While I do like how the hints for the twist were hidden throughout the novel, it still lacked cohesion. It was like a couple of pieces were still missing and, without them, the story just started to fall apart.

I also feel as though I should quickly mention the characters. I actually found Em to be quite easy to empathise with. While she lacks in depth, I could relate to her outlook. She’s caught in an existential crisis, desperately reaching out into the darkness to grasp any little thing that might give her life meaning. Honestly, everyone has experienced the crushing weight of solipsism at some point in their life and therefore I could fully understand the distress it causes. Yet, beyond Em, the rest of the characters were fairly forgettable. Even Eido, the love interest, was pretty uninteresting. He was just too perfect and wise to feel like a real human being.

Well, I think I’ve covered everything. Superunknown: Of Fairytales and Grunge is really little more than a dressed-up philosophical essay. Its ideas are interesting but the story in which they’re presented is weak and rather forgettable. If you’re interested in either grunge or existentialism you might get a kick out of it, otherwise I wouldn’t really recommend this novella.

Superunknown: Of Fairytales and Grunge can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. brontespageturners
    Mar 22, 2016 @ 07:09:54

    Wow! I was a total grunge kid so really want to check this out out of curiosity! Thanks for posting! Bronte

    Reply

  2. The Quidnunc
    Mar 22, 2016 @ 08:50:22

    I totally agree with brontespageturners! Great review BTW!!! I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on the book 🙂

    Reply

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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