On the matriarchal planet of Grovea, Silhouette gives birth to her son; as the first wife of Novic, an immortal Sayneth priest, she is helped by six midwives. According to Grovean tradition the mother always names the child and Silhouette calls her son T-Mo. However, as soon as Novic sees him, he decides he should be named Odysseus, “the travelling one”. This flouting of tradition is to have repercussions throughout the child’s life, with his Jekyll-and-Hyde characteristics being apparent from his earliest days. T-Mo loved to be held and nurtured by his mother, whilst Odysseus rejected her physical contact and, under the influence of his father, became cunning, greedy and strong, always looking to his father, even as an infant. This tale follows the boy’s life, from his early years on planet Grovea with his mother, to his travels to Earth, where he meets and marries Salem, with whom he has a hybrid daughter called Myra. Through the eyes of the three women the reader discovers how each of them negotiates their relationship with T-Mo/Odysseus as they attempt to understand, accommodate and survive the effects of his split personality. They must discover how to appreciate his loving goodness and reject his violent darkness and, in the process, gain personal strength and confidence.
Although there are elements of fantasy, science fiction, magic, hybrid characters, interplanetary travel and shape-shifting characters in this enthralling story, it is its thought-provoking complexity and its essential humanity which make it so much more than the sum of these labels. I was certainly able to immerse myself in, and enjoy, the other-worldly fantasy elements of the story-telling, but what made it outstanding for me was how the author combined this fantastical world with so many immediately recognisable contemporary themes – including domestic abuse, violence, racism, bigotry, bullying, feminism, political manipulation, rape as a weapon of war, refugees, immigration, living in exile, justice and retribution. Her explorations of how people discover who they are, how they manage to cope with difference, to discover their inner strengths and how they learn to understand and to relate to others, are central to the development of the story. Through her characters she highlights that, whoever you are, and wherever you come from, the need to find your place in your world, and to find loving relationships, is a universal quest.
I don’t want to go into any detail about how the story evolves because I think it’s important to accompany each of the characters as they negotiate their journeys of self-discovery, and to immerse yourself in the different worlds they inhabit. However, the author’s portrayal of her characters’ personalities and their evolving relationships has a psychological integrity which is both compassionate and impressive. I loved the fact that her female characters discovered within themselves the strength to face and overcome challenges in their lives and relationships and to be supportive of one another. I felt totally drawn into their worlds, enveloped in a magical world which felt both different and yet familiar. I found myself laughing with them, crying with them, despairing with them to such an extent that they remain vivid in my memory and I find myself wondering how life is for them now! I think that a large part of the reason for this is that the author’s vivid imagery drew me into the worlds they were inhabiting in a powerful, almost visceral way. In addition to the main characters, the more minor ones were as richly drawn, with each making an essential contribution to the development of the story. However, I particularly fell in love with wise, omnipresent Miss Potty and Red, the singing plant who was capable of sulking!
Although Eugen Bacon has won many awards for short stories, this is her debut novel and I find it hard to believe that it won’t attract similar critical acclaim. Her eloquent, elegant and lyrical prose gripped me from the very first sentence of this immensely passionate, moving and thought-provoking story, and it continued to do so until I closed the final page. My involuntary exclamation as I finished was WOW – rather lacking the author’s eloquence, but a heartfelt reflection of the power of this amazing, magical book.
Linda Hepworth 5/5
Claiming T-Mo by Eugen Bacon
Meerkat Press 9781946154132 pbk Aug 2019