Cross-section slice through psyche, a channelling via orchestrated acts of disassociation and fracture — Mental Shrapnel is divine comedy too, as the text dredges memory and forgetting (and everything that doesn’t cover) — a desperate hilarity amid the chaos and dark matter, conjuring a very bad trip indeed, which lurches between Prague and the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s, the final act of the twentieth-century’s long war.
Hermetic tributaries are rerouted; in one sense the book is an occult primer in fifty-one chapters, grafted on to a concussed history of Bohemia — multiplex through the obsidian mirror of recreational alchemy — a ketamine-codeine overdose, and on into deathless trance state. The book is telepathic.
O’Neill’s novel has an impressive drug tally (script and rec), which outguns Naked Lunch, Hunter S. Thompson’s entire back catalogue and a Friday-night raid on your local pharmacy grafted together, conjuring an anti-therapy session set in ‘a gangrenous room-sized exit wound’. An intracellular transport system links imploding Vorticist mindscapes, an epic work of oneiromancy — the waking dream that no one wants to inhabit, the dreamer unconvinced that she is not yet dead already: try to imagine waking up in Hieronymus Bosch’s head on a comedown plus hangover.
Yet, like the extended aftermath of an LSD trip, the text somehow reboots the psyche — albeit more a satanic exorcism conducted by Crowley’s uncooperative ghost. A comparison with Dante’s Hell cannot do the book justice (not that it’s interested in justice): a sustained state of collapse fuses noughties Praha and nineties besieged Sarajevo — ‘WarZone’ and ‘PeaceZone’ — echoes of the dismembered body politic of post-communist Yugoslavia, strata of remembrance overlaid, filaments of space-time knotting and unknotting through interweaving spirals.
All this somehow occurs inside the body and brain, the corrosive anatomy of a deranged fractal voice named Christopher Mahler, whose viral crackling synapses infect the body at the molecular level — ‘like licking an electric fence’ — virocracy of war, the endless war you refuse to take responsibility for, infinite plague with memory unbound and irretrievable.
You are never going back — impossibility of return to the lost moment, the one that just hurtled past, the legions that have passed — a lifelong suicide note of false memories superimposed on a decade of acid-war trip: another nightmare in someone else’s kitchen, rancid halfway house of all the dead souls — such graceful brutality, time upon time.
© Richard Makin