TEXT review

The wandering writer

review by Nadia Niaz


Aashish Kaul
A Dream of Horses & other stories
John Hunt Publishing, Alresford HA, 2014
ebook ISBN10: 1782795367
pb ISBN13: 9781782795360
Pb 117pp AUD7.99 ebook, AUD12.95 pb


In A Dream of Horses and other Stories, Aashish Kaul presents the reader with seven different narrators, all of whom seem lost in some way. Some enter dream states while others speak from liminal or even dissociated spaces. Their individual realities are fluid, making ‘reality’ itself ultimately unknowable. In this way, Kaul is able to take the reader through landscapes and images that are woven together from a host of influences, all of which he acknowledges in turn, some in the epigraphs that accompany each story, and some in the narrative itself. This engagement with other writers suggests a desire – and an invitation – to meditate on and explore the nature and purpose of the creative impulse itself.

In the first story, ‘The Parable of the Archer’, we meet an expert Chinese archer who, in seeking to become a true master, must face a trying path. In ‘The Passage’, a young soldier is seen running from trauma. In ‘The Light Ascending’, a demoralised author wanders a hillside and has a dream in which he meets his idol and has an epiphany. ‘A Dream of Horses’ takes us to Paris, where we encounter a writer regaining his strength after an illness. In ‘Phantom Days’, two friends on holiday in the mountains discuss the value of art in a world full of suffering. ‘Tahiti’ moves between an Indian hill station with a mysterious library and Paris with an enigmatic woman, as well as between dream states and wakefulness. ‘Two Travellers’ consists of an imaginary meeting and conversation between Samuel Beckett and Jorge Luis Borges, both of whom haunt the rest of the stories in this collection.     

Among the motifs and themes in these stories are paths that wind and travel uphill, old buildings hidden by trees or looming over the landscape, discussions and musings about the act and point of writing, old men guiding younger, haunted, defeated or convalescing men, libraries, bookshops and collections of books, wind and the sounds it makes, flutes, and, most of all, journeys. Most of the stories suggest fugue states, though there is rarely any explicit trauma to point to as the cause. The narrators all wander through the world simultaneously burdened by an awareness of their own mortality and futility, and alive to the beauty of both the landscapes they inhabit in the present moment and those they have passed through previously.

There is a strong lyrical quality to Kaul’s work, and the landscapes themselves are often well-realised. The ideas and tone of the stories are engaging, even enchanting; Kaul’s writing has moments when it rises easily into the poetic. The collection suffers, however, from overwriting; the prose is weighed down by extraneity that might have been more rigorously edited. This is most evident in ‘A Dream of Horses’ with its many initially pleasant if arresting images that go on for far too long. For instance:

Crows perched on telephone poles and the wires linking them, clutching countless conversations in their claws which escaped through their claws all the same as the crows stood still and the world spun beneath them and they with it. (27)

In contrast, in ‘Two Travellers’, perhaps the most succinct and skilfully written story in the collection, we meet an old writer – an imaginary Samuel Beckett – who feels he has lived

…all his life in a soft fog of memories… Sounds and images come in flashes, while washing, cooking, walking. Everything he tastes, sees, touches, smells bursts into impressions. The solitary yelp of a dog reaching him from across the Marne is already that of many dogs barking in the stone quarries up in the hills in a night of his childhood. (92)

Kaul demonstrates the way each memory dissolves into the next, sometimes triggered by the previous one, sometimes by a passing impression. The effect of image turning into image is hypnotic at first, but after two pages, the spell wears off. Although Kaul cleverly includes images that range from lofty to everyday, he might have limited the list to a well-chosen few. Given that the narrator is the ghost of Beckett, however, the stylistic overlay may be intentional.

The thematic similarity to Borges – the other ghostly figure that pervades these stories and manifests in ‘The Travellers’ – is undeniable, but where Borges masters the art of dream states and multilayered narrative, Kaul falters, though not from lack of imagination or sensitivity. With strong editing, the quiet, brooding lyricism that Kaul aims for could be both sustained and captivating.



Nadia Niaz is a Melbourne-based writer and editor. She has a PhD in Creative Writing and Cultural Studies from the University of Melbourne and teaches creative writing at various levels. Her work has previously appeared in Strange 4 and The Alhamra Literary Review.


Return to Contents Page
Return to Home Page

Vol 18 No 2 October 2014
General editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Kevin Brophy, Enza Gandolfo & Linda Weste
Reviews editor: Linda Weste