Revisiting: The Unauthorised Biography of Ezra Maas

Ezra Maas

In late 2018 I reviewed the original edition of The Unauthorised Biography of Ezra Maas, summing it up as ‘An astonishing, mind-bending creation that defies the limitations of cliched description‘. It was a remarkable literary achievement and went on to be shortlisted for a national book prize. Then it disappeared from my radar. This happens. I did not, at the time, suspect any involvement from the Maas Foundation. Now I’m not so sure.

When reading any biography there is always an element of doubt over what is truth and what is fiction. Whoever writes a history controls the narrative. The telling of any ‘true’ story will say as much about author as subject – it can never include everything and will rarely be balanced.

This book blurs boundaries. It tells a convoluted yet compelling tale that overlaps events and characters across multiple locations and decades. There are numerous cross references and hidden messages. Key pieces of information have been redacted, although may still be inferred. It offers a reminder that the artistic world is defensive and ego driven, and that the powerful controllers in any sphere can prove dangerous.

“This book is dangerous. You need to know that before you begin.”

Daniel James is named as the author. He writes of being commissioned by a secretive source to write the biography of the reclusive artist, Ezra Maas, who has been missing for many years. In that time, any memory of him has been carefully erased.

What we have here is a fragmentary pulling together of what James managed to complete, with explanation and elucidation by a friend who, for their own safety, wishes to remain Anonymous. It is left to the reader to decide what they choose to believe.

“every reader who purchases the book will have his or her own interpretations, along with other narrative layers that I can never hope to identify and catalogue. In this way, the voices will continue to multiply, and the manuscript will be endlessly reborn”

This new edition presents much the same text as the original but reformatted to include some disturbing but also impressive additions. There are new artworks, diagrams and facsimiles – some blood stained. Official documents referenced are reproduced clearly. An appendix has been added that explores the years since the original was published. The End is not the end.

The book is stunning aesthetically, a worthy if apocryphal addition to what may be remembered of the Maas canon – now sadly held by private collectors and not made available to the public. It tells a story that may be hard to believe except we know how the rich and powerful hold the puppet strings of the law makers and media.

“It is impossible to discount the possibility that some of what you are about to read may contain fiction. As a biographer, Daniel’s style was uniquely creative”

Does this all sound too vague or are you intrigued? For those who enjoy labyrinthian mysteries that weave in a plethora of cultural references to shadow fact and fiction, this could be for you. Whatever your interpretation remember it will also be a reflection. We are all constructs, never fully understood or believed, even by ourselves.

My original review may be read here.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Valley Press.


Book Review: Siphonophore


Siphonophore, by Jaimie Batchan, opens as an historical tale of a Scottish man, MacGregor, who in the late seventeenth century sailed to the Gulf of Darién, part of a doomed expedition attempting colonisation. The story soon morphs into something structurally original. Still narrated by MacGregor, the trials faced by his author as the novel progresses reveal much about creative conceits and process. Life being terminal, questions arise over how worthwhile it is to use limited time available to create other worlds for readers. MacGregor recognises he will only exist if he can keep the author writing – and believing his creation matters, even if only to him.    

Early on, a little of MacGregor’s backstory is revealed. Childhood is given cursory treatment. 

“My memories of that time are as happy and solipsistic as any other child of average standing and ability.”

His first jobs as a young adult did not end well, going some way towards explaining why he was recommended for an Imperial misadventure manned mostly by naval and infantry ‘hucksters and hooligans’. MacGregor did, however, leave behind a wife and offspring. Little is told of them.

These briefly mentioned facts provide bones around which to build the character of our protagonist. The lack of depth and detail provided is explained when we realise this is an early draft of a book being written, still to be fleshed out and edited.

MacGregor is often disgruntled that the author chooses not to make his life easier – particularly after he is abandoned by his crew mates.

“All that is required is for him to write something about me and it becomes true”

MacGregor is also often scathing of the author’s abilities and personal failings. Faced with his impending mortality, the author broods about his past, allowing memories and regrets – opportunities missed that were likely never available – to cast shadows over the life he is currently living. 

“He confuses being able to remember facts with actual intelligence”

MacGregor’s hope is to escape Darién, but first he must live through the story being written of him, one that is stuttered by his author’s many digressions and procrastinations.

“It’s clear that in order to communicate with a reader, I must fight through the filter of my Creator”

Of course, this meta approach to storytelling has been tried before in other guises but not, I would posit, with the brevity and wit provided here. Although cleverly constructed, this tale avoids the many pitfalls of literary pretention. The tale is both poignant and darkly entertaining.

A story of a writer and of writing, viewed through the lens of a fictional character, draws the reader to ask who is real and what of anything in life is factual. MacGregor lives through the whims of the author, but the latter is deeply invested in his character. Their symbiosis provides a fascinating if sometimes disturbing study on how an author’s mind can work.

Siphonophore is published by Valley Press. My copy was provided gratis by the author.