Being of a somewhat serious nature, this worm has decided to explore the philosophical and psychological aspects of the book.
“My dear worm,” I hear you say, “the blurb says the book is ‘a combination of sizzling romance, eerie horror, and tense psychological drama’. That doesn’t sound like serious science!”
In my years of exploring and consuming books, this bookworm has found that many a novel has a good solid grounding in “serious science”. That is what makes them compelling reading.
Symbols and dreams
In both Jungian and African (Xhosa) methodologies, symbols are seen as a powerful tool for dealing with psychological problems. Literature also makes good use of symbols and the associations that they so easily bring into the minds of readers.
This worm is particularly taken with the way Things Unseen plays with symbols, mixing European and African traditions. It makes you think about the implications of two different sets of symbolism meeting at the tip of Africa, mostly unaware of their different world views, and attempting to forge a life together. This has been happening over the centuries in that turbulent part of the world. It is still happening all over the world, in the microcosmic sense, when two people meet.
What do you see when you look at the picture on the cover of Things Unseen? A ghost, perhaps, looming over a burning house? Perhaps the white cloak and dark face make the figure seem threatening. Or perhaps the figure is instead a symbol from African culture, of a healer dressed in white and hovering protectively over a household in trouble.
Xhosa traditional healers believe that our “ancestors” communicate with us via dreams. The word “ancestor” to a Xhosa person comes loaded with a set of associations and beliefs that Europeans are unaware of. An ancestor is a presence in your mind and in your family, who plays a very definite and beneficial role in guiding your actions and guarding you and your people.
Jungian healers believe that our unconscious communicates with our conscious minds via symbols in dreams.
A book written by M. Vera Bührmann describes the similarities between the treatment methods and philosophies of African witchdoctors and Jungian psychologists. It is a fascinating read, being a personal account of investigations by a Jungian psychologist spending time with a group of Xhosa healers: Living in Two Worlds, Communication between a white healer and her black counterparts (Human & Rousseau, 1984).
Characters or tropes?
A trope is a character type that authors use to call up a set of expectations and images in their readers’ minds. Think of evil stepmothers, the big bad wolf, a druid, an orphan who becomes a king, and so on.
Things Unseen has a couple of well-known and much-loved character types, brought to life as individuals. This worm’s favourite cameo is Felicia, the pyromaniac. Felicia dresses in brightly-coloured scraps, assembled into an eccentric outfit with short, bright leggings. She cuts the hem off a dress, leaving a jagged outline. Like upside-down flames, she thinks. She hovers in the background, watching the heroes of the book with a gimlet eye, and muttering about the perfect conflagration she is planning.
Then there’s Tim, the ghost buster… Ah, but I will not spoil your fun.
Disclosure: It is only fair to disclose that Mark Wordsworm (the Travelling Worm, and author of this blog) is a nom de plume of Sarah Maddox, author of Things Unseen. Thanks for reading this post.
Getting hold of the book
Things Unseen is available in eBook format from these sites:
The customary “Me” photograph
Followers of this blog will be expecting a picture of this worm looking dashing while doing something daring. I am, as always, keen to please, so here it is.
Me cuddling up to Things Unseen on a Kindle.