All the Galaxies…
The Lovely Bones meets Margaret Atwood in this extraordinary, deeply moving, supernatural story of a young man’s journey to find his mother, wrapped in a dystopian novel about an epic battle between good and evil that threatens to destroy a near future city.
John Fallon is a disillusioned journalist on a failing Glasgow newspaper. After a second failed independence referendum, Scotland is in turmoil, having broken into a number of autonomous city states. But Fallon has trouble closer to home: his son Roland has gone missing after a peaceful student protest turns violent at the hands of the newly militarised police.
In another world, a boy is wakened in the afterlife by his spirit guide, his beloved childhood dog, Kim. Kim takes the boy on a journey to the planets where the dead go, where he hopes to find his long dead mother. As the boy and his dog make a shocking discovery that requires an impossible choice, Fallon searches for his son, discovering along the way that a great deal more is at stake than the future of one nation.
In All the Galaxies, Philip Miller presents a mesmerising morality tale that proves both a compulsive page-turner and unforgettable emotional journey.
My thoughts on All the Galaxies…there are certainly many of them; I hardly know where to begin. This is such a meaningful novel on so many levels. The author, Philip Miller, is a journalist and this experience shines brightly throughout, lending an integral authenticity to his journalist characters and their experiences of working for newspapers. I always enjoy novels written by authors who have to a certain degree lived similar lives to their characters, be it professionally or through lived experiences. It just adds a realistic edge to a story that is otherwise unmatched.
There are some excellent lines throughout All the Galaxies and some truly funny moments; there’s an awful lot of swearing, yet this seems to be a Scottish tendency so it by no means distracted from the narrative – in some places it had me in stitches from laughing so hard. I normally like to talk about the characters individually in my reviews, but there are quite lot of characters within this novel, many of them pivotal. Suffice to say, they all filled their roles accordingly, and I enjoyed the varying degrees in which they were crafted.
The notion of newspapers, and even journalism, as a redundant need for society was so interesting to explore. That we would move to online news exclusively is not all that hard to envisage, but to remove the journalist and have all news written by members of the community; isn’t that what social media is? Is that really what we’re headed for? Maybe. When posed as it was in All the Galaxies, it seems quite likely indeed. It’s an idea worthy of reflection but that loss of professional impartiality is to my mind something to be feared; we only need to look at the quality of current affairs on Australian commercial TV to see what grassroots community written electronic newspapers would look like. Actually, just log onto Facebook and search for your local community ‘vent’ page; there’s your newspaper of the future. Say no more. The Mercury, the focal paper within All the Galaxies, was facing a reinvention of this nature and the journalists working there were either fighting fiercely to prove their worth, and therefore hang onto their job, or they were giving up and moving on. I love this line spoken to John Fallon by Anne Pierce, his boss, as she tells him of her intention to leave the paper:
“…you were made for journalism. You always seem to be on the outside. Looking in. I felt that too. Not part of things. And of course it’s a failure, or at least a feature, of us that we report on and try to shape society while wanting, in our hearts, no part of it.”
Journalism isn’t the only thing under the microscope in All the Galaxies. Terrorism as a way of life forms a basis for the setting. Glasgow is a city in turmoil, barely recovering from a reign of terror known as The Horrors. While dystopian in its themes, All the Galaxies is a timely scaled down examination of the global war on terror that we’ve all been living under the shadow of for almost 16 years now. My children have not lived in this world without terrorism being a constant threat. They’ll probably never have that freedom we took for granted before 9/11. They’ll never be able to plan an overseas trip without having to account for terrorist threats. And for what cause or reason are we all suffering for? John Fallon contemplates The Horrors at one point within the story, and it in turn made me contemplate all the terrorist attacks of recent years:
“But at the heart of The Horrors was a grey void. It had achieved nothing but blood, injury and misery. Nothingness and erasure. There was a sterility to their apolitical, nihilist insurrection.”
How incredibly truthful and insightful. A grey void of nothingness and erasure. With no end in sight, just an adjustment to how we all have to live our lives. Life in the 21st century.
Within this story of destabilisation and rampant terrorism, there is a man who is experiencing stigmata – for non-Christians, this refers to body marks, sores, or sensations of pain in locations corresponding to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ, such as the hands, wrists, feet and head. John-Jo is experiencing extreme stigmata, he’s even pulling nails out of his palms and pieces of wood out of the side of his body. He no sooner heals and he’s splitting open again. A supernatural fancy, for sure, but what John-Jo represents is hope. Hope against evil, and I really appreciated this, particularly towards the end, when John-Jo fulfils his prophecy:
“The end comes not with broken seals and the foretold apocalypse, but with the subtle change of the mind, a breath of new air. Then history is torn.”
Now, as if all this was not enough to make for a cracking story, there is also the notion of life after death interspersed throughout. I don’t really want to comment too much on this aspect of the novel as I think these sections are open to interpretation based on your own beliefs and imagination. Needless to say, they added another layer to the overall themes of morality and existence that run rampant in All the Galaxies, giving it a sophisticated edge that elevates this novel to a higher plane of contemplation.
All the Galaxies is an incredibly complicated novel that is incredibly easy to read. It will pull you in, set your mind on fire, and then leave you wanting more. I liken this story to a puzzle, a living puzzle that continually changes its pieces, the final picture assembled resembling nothing like you could have imagined. At times you’re not too sure if all the pieces are going to fit, but in the end they do. And in the most magnificent way.
“Among the stars we all live again…And in his triumph the Enemy will be confounded.”
Something for us all to hope for.
Thanks is extended to Allen and Unwin for providing me with a copy of All the Galaxies for review.
About the Author:
Philip Miller has been Arts Correspondent for the Scotsman, the Sunday Times in Scotland and the Herald, and has twice been named Arts Writer of the Year. His stories and poetry have been published widely.