Mud, by Chris McCabe, is billed as a re-imagining of the Ancient Greek myth of Orpheus & Eurydice, set in contemporary London. Its protagonists are Borak, a failed wizard, and his girlfriend Karissa. When the tale opens they are breaking up having tried living together. To mark their separation Borak asks Karissa to go down with him into the mud, of which he tells her there are twenty-four kinds. They must seek a cube of air and let it out, then they may leave each other forever.
Obviously this is a weird request. To add to the strangeness, Borak wishes to make a film of their journey and has funding for the small crew needed. Karissa agrees to take part and tells her friend Brisa, who may have been more concerned had she not been worrying about a potential date. Watching Borak and Karissa’s love fall apart has made Brisa feel lonely.
The team set out to find the different types of mud. They film on Hampstead Heath and in Wales. They follow tracks that sink into the earth with mud rising to either side. Eventually they go underground and disappear within caves and tunnels that exist beneath tree roots and collapsing graves.
Brisa grows worried about her missing friend. She starts digging for clues, seeking her whereabouts, following voices she hears. She is pleased when her new boyfriend offers to help.
The story plays out in various forms: dialogue, emails, cutouts, and narrative sections. There are descriptions of mud in its various guises. There are strange similes.
“Leaves blew back down the heath like live-fried fish.”
“Brisa’s mind filled up on anxiety like a cat carrier thrown out to sea.”
Recurring items and characters appear in disparate scenes. The Postlude (The Head of Orpheus, Still Singing) is a quick fire rap type dialogue filled with pop culture references.
This playing around with sense and composition can be disorientating to read. The language and flow are not difficult and the story remains somehow compelling but the threads wander at will in directions it can be a challenge to comprehend. For example, a mole appears dressed in a suit and acts as compère for one of Borak’s magic tricks. I remain unclear how this should be interpreted.
As long time followers will know, I enjoy reading literature that pushes boundaries. Mud feels playful and is undoubtedly witty but I wonder if it is perhaps a tad esoteric.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Henningham Family Press.