In the Spirit of Alasdair Gray
In fact, Vellum is empty, pretentious twaddle. It's another naked emperor for the cheering throng that mistakes obscurantism for brilliance. I cannot even call Duncan's novel an exercise in style over substance, because that term implies a substance beneath the style. Duncan, having exhaustively researched ancient myths, is just playing around with them here without shining the light of understanding upon them — either as stories in and of themselves, or upon the role of myth as a necessary defining ingredient of civilization.
I confess that I am in the target audience for this book. Those who read a lot tend to become inured to the simple linear plot - the typical novel with a beginning, a middle, and an end. We seek the new and the daring. Romans à clef. Allegories. Stream of consciousness. We search for the hidden meanings. We speculate on the influences and the psychological state of the author.
Worse if we are English majors or professors who tire of mining the Biblical or Shakespearean allusions in T. S. Eliot’s The Wasteland; we start craving the hard stuff. James Joyce. And not The Dubliners or Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. No. We start popping Ulysses. And soon our appetite can only be satiated by the sine qua non of post-modern literature; the crack cocaine of chronicles: Finnegan’s Wake. A novel that is not so much read as deciphered.
No. Despite the fact that Vellum is a self-consciously literary work, it is not in the same league as Finnegan’s Wake. Granted, it is built on allusions that are as carefully layered as Rembrandt’s brushstrokes. Nevertheless the book can be understood by a layman. No Ph.D. is required to decode it.