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  • Writer's pictureIan Ayris

ACCORDING TO MARK by H.B. O'Neill



The Blurb

Robert is unravelling.


Following a devastating break up he finds himself distraught, desperate, and increasingly confused.


When his literary hero, Mark Twain begins to communicate with him, Robert initially takes solace in Twain's innate wisdom. Quite quickly though warning bells start to sound, and it becomes clear that Mark's whispered, often cryptic advice, could prove dangerous.


As Robert's mental health continues to deteriorate, he embarks on a quest around London using Twain's words as his guide and inspiration.


Will listening to his hero lead to solace and recovery, or is it an undertaking that can only end in tragedy?


The Opening

I'm closing my eyes now.


And I'm standing on a blue painted number 3 on Platform 3 at Chadwell Heath Station. The blue painted 3 is one of two painted 3s that signal where the two doors of carriage 3 will open. When the train arrives, I enter carriage 3 and find a seat. It's at the far end. In the corner. Ideal.


There's a discarded copy of the Daily Mail at my feet. Its front page has a picture of Kate Middleton attending a royal engagement. The captions mentions her 'daring hemline' and a previous passenger has taken the trouble to biro an arrow toward her head and scribe the word Golddigger. Ha! Thinks I. I know you!. An angry, jealous and bitter person. Someone sad and despairing.


Someone lost.


I allow myself a sigh as the train gathers pace and another journey begins. One which Mark Twain and I have determined will be my last.


The Review

According to Mark is a conventional love story.


Sort of.


I mean, it has the love between two people at its heart: Robert and Rebecca. They meet. They each believe they have finally met their forever person. Stuff happens. And they part.


So. Yep. A conventional love story.


Except there is not a single conventional thing about this book. Not one. For a start, the central disrupter between the two lovers is the ghost of Mark Twain.


In Robert you will never have met a less conventional central character. He sees the world in a way that solely makes sense to him, something Rebecca initially finds endearing but later becomes a cause of concern for her, and for the reader, when she realises the way Robert sees the world is perhaps an indication that all is not well deep within him.


And Mark Twain? Well, he's not helping. In fact, the very first words in the book - a quote from Twain - tell you all you need to know about that particular gentleman:


"I am the King of the Buffoons.

I am a dangerous person."


When Robert sees Rebecca reading Twain's Huckleberry Finn at the beginning of the novel, he becomes obsessed. Robert, to put it mildly, is something of the obsessive sort. And this is brought out brilliantly in the book, as O'Neill takes inside Robert's head and leaves us dangling in the darkness, numbed by the chaos within. Here is Robert on a tube train:


'I don't have to look around. I can look forward. I can look up. Face the messages. Allow the ads to speak. They will anyway. I can't stop them. Not anymore.


I AM HAIR LOSS? I AM IT NEEDN'T BE THE END

OF THE LINE. I AM FEMFRESH. I AM WOO HOO

FOR MY FROO FROO.


I can look down. Stare at the detritus. Listen to their trauma.


I AM CRUMPLED COFFEE CUP. I AM

STAINED MAGAZINE. I CAN CLOSE MY EYES.


And now the doors close and the train moves and we're heading off. I'm on my way to work.'


His interactions with people fare no better. Here he is late in the book being spoken to by a police officer:


"Did you know you were trespassing, sir?"


"No I didn't. Not morally at least. Did you know Mark Twain and Winston Churchill

share the same birthday?"


"Can I have your name please, sir?"

"Certainly, Robert, take it if you want it. Did you know that Googling Mark Twain

brings up more than 67, 500, 000 hits?"


"Can I have your full name please, sir?"


"Horatio Robert Foxley. Did you know that Mark Twain was the sixth of seven

children and only three of his siblings survived childhood?"


"Do you have a family, sir?"


"I have a sister. And did you know that Mark Twain, at the age of 62, lived for a few

months, just over yonder at 23 Tedworth Square. Mark Twain was finishing a

world tour at the time and he was writing a book about his travels, at a rate of

1,800 words a day."


"May I have her phone number please, sir?"


"I'm afraid she's married."


"May I have her phone number in order to check a few facts please, sir."


"Certainly. 07961 590208. She's on holiday in Gibraltar. And did you also know

that during Mark Twain's reporter days in Nevada he was notorious for

writing and publishing hoaxes?"


"Was he really. Have you given me the correct phone number, sir?"


"No. I made it up. If you add the digits they total 47. That's the number of

cats Mark Twain owned during his lifetime. And also his average score at

Billiards."


And so it goes.


Through Robert's eyes we don't just see his world crumble, we feel it.


The way the book is structured - alternate First Person viewpoints from Robert then Rebecca - allows the reader to continually empathise with both. The genius of this juxtaposition is that Robert's viewpoint is told in present tense - his unravelling taking place in real time - whilst Rebecca is looking back in heartbreaking hindsight at the incidents Robert is attempting to navigate.


For just as the Robert chapters are anarchic and hilarious, though always unhinged, Rebecca's are the voice of one unable to come to terms with what might have been. She knows it is too late.


As she states early in the book:


'I was being ridiculous. I recognise that now, I guess you could say dating Robert has taught me a lot that I didn't fully appreciate.'


And later, as the recognition of her pain becomes clear:


'It was tragic. All of it was tragic.'


As we witness Robert's deterioration and the inevitability of his final meeting with Mark Twain, there is nothing to do but turn our heads to Rebecca, smile at the memories of the good times, when Robert was so Robert - and agree.


According to Mark is like no book I have ever read.

I know this review does not do it justice.


No review could.


Although, the brilliant H.C. Newton gives it as good a go as anyone could give it a go, over on his blog here: https://irresponsiblereader.com/2024/02/02/according-to-mark-by-h-b-oneill-no-man-has-a-wholly-undiseased-mind/#


You can read a FREE extended extract from According to Mark here: https://fahrenheit-press.myshopify.com/blogs/news/according-to-mark-extended-extract









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