The Delphi Room by Melia McClure comes from oddball, Toronto-based publisher ChiZine. ChiZine is basically the unofficial “sponsor” for my little freakbook show this month as 3 of the 5 titles are coming from them (Thank you!!). They are THE place to find all the strange, scary, and surreal in the book world and this novel is a pretty good example of all three.
After hanging herself, Velvet finds herself locked in a version of her childhood bedroom all alone. No way out, no view from the window. Just the bedroom, a bed, mirror and a pad of paper on a desk. Is it Hell? Heaven? Somewhere in between? With no signs from above or below, Velvet begins to (understandably) freak right out. Until she hears a knock on the wall beside her and finds a note stuffed into an air grid. Living beside her, in his own room is Brinkley. Through the passing of letters, the two try to uncover some kind of answer for their current situations. Inexplicable scenes from their lives begin to play through the mirrors in their respective rooms and as one watches the other’s tragic moments, they begin to gain empathy and understanding for each other, but above all, the feeling of not being alone in the universe.
I was a little confused since The Delphi Room was described as a story about finding love after death. I didn’t feel like V&B fell in love, but rather they fell into a comforting friendship that was based on mutual circumstances (both past and current). In fact, their lives mirror each others (figuratively AND literally) almost perfectly. Both had stunningly beautiful, albeit batshit crazy, mothers who resembled old hollywood movie stars. Both of these mothers offered wild, unsteady upbringings for their children and the result became a manic depressive Velvet who was tormented by an imaginary figure named The Shadowman and a socially inept Brinkley who talked to a poster of Clara Bow. Interestingly, half the novel unravels through their letters back and forth, while the other half is written out through scenes depicting moments from their lives with the dialogue and descriptions of a screenplay.
Perhaps it was naive of me to think the threads in this story were going to piece together cleanly, or that the connection between the characters would solidify. It seemed like each revealing moment or confession acted like a grab bag of images, displaying only excerpts of these two quirky, tormented lives but never the whole picture. Despite that, the conceptual strength of the novel made up for it’s intermittent plot and execution, (historically, Delphi is one of the most important religious sanctuaries in Greek mythology. It is an oracle that is believed to answers questions through riddles). I thought the story of Velvet and Brinkley was a surreal, visual journey through the unknown that shows that the search for answers is often meaningless. That whatever happens will inevitably happen, whether it’s a slow descent into insanity or a quick fall from grace. And that life after death is very open to interpretation.