The Babylonian Trilogy – Sebastien Doubinsky

Posted on March 1, 2011 by

1


The Babylonian Trilogy, as the title suggests, is a book divided into three parts.  Each of the three parts deals with the large themes of existence: Life, death, poetry and the pieces in between. Each novel is different from the others in essence, although the reoccurring ideas and the intense characterisation give access to the scope of what is examined within its pages. The broad ranging themes remain the same; although the characters take the reader on a journey into unknown territory one inevitably finds a little piece of oneself in every character.

Poetry is the primary access mode throughout the three books, to the many different characters. Poetry, however, is not the sweet feathered luxurious cape we wear today. Poetry in Babylon is demanding. It is subversive, snake like and it oils its way through people’s lives. In some characters it heals, and in others it demands huge sacrifice. In each of the three books the artist (always a male reminding us of the actual author) is unsuccessful and confronted by their art in some way. In book one; it is the short story writer and poet who gave in to his ego drive when he receives another rejection slip. In the second book it is a man caught in the space between life and death that uses poetry to calm and resurrect himself. But poetry finds him through disturbing dreams and images and phantasies that threaten to compromise his grip on the clarity of right and wrong. In the final book the poet is the one who overdoses, declaring all along that the dope was his inspiration source. Poetry is not a commodity that the government can own, that capitalism can purchase or that creativity can control, though it is seen as such. We learn early on that the ‘other’ that kills god may well be poetry itself and poetry is mad; A coat of many colours mad.

You are wondering who I am, perhaps.

Haven’t you understood yet? I am the colors in this text, the

mysterious chapters and the thread between the words. I am the

sound of the turning of the page, and the silence of your reading.

I am with you and within you. I am above and under. I am the

song of the trees and the satellites’ radio waves, the laughter of

Lilith and the wind on the sea. I am the witness and the actor, the

culprit and the innocent. I am the last face you see when you fall

asleep, and the first one you meet in the morning. In the paper

theatre of your existence, I am the candle which sets everything

on fire, and watches you crumple and turn to ashes. But I am also

the one who takes you by the hand and leads you out of impossible

situations. I am the ink in the pen and the bullet in the

chamber, the sigh of relief and the cry of despair. I have no name,

but many nicknames, of all of which my favourite is, of course, the

narrator.

The first book deals with many different characters. Death is an overarching theme as the country is at war. We know this through the eyes of a soldier trying to make sense of where he is at, and a journalist and her hapless cameraman, both of whom are searching for the perfect story about death. This inevitably leads to more and more stories about death and ultimately to the confrontation with death that we all must face. But this is the world of Babylon. The stars of this first novel are not all human or human-like creatures. One is a dog that morphs into any other creature it chooses to be when confronted by the limits of its ability to control its own world.   Another is a god-made creature that falls in love with a goddess and demands bloody revenge from god when he strikes her down in a characteristic fit of jealousy. Another character is colour itself demanding its own recognition as an object or entity, finding its place in the world.

Every story must end, for the end is always a new beginning.

Everybody had seen her reports on the war, and the buzz was

incredible. Pain might be rewarding in the end. She kissed Joyce

softly on the lips and buried her head next to her face on the

deep pillow. Another siren howled in the distance. Yes, maybe pain could be rewarding after all.

The second book focuses more on the mind of one man, a policeman in charge of an investigation into a serial killer. This is a world of black and white. Poetry is death here, the weapon of choice by the serial killer who kills women jack-the-ripper style.  We live in the minds of each man, the good and the bad. Right and wrong in this world are clear; there is no doubt. However, death itself is a strange and ambiguous thing, elusive; a thing to be craved. As our protagonist knows at work to peruse evil and can feel good doing it, at home, caught between his lover and his wife, a lustre less life and the pure subterranean thrill of his memoires, the same man is slab of cold grey meal, moulded by experience, blow about by the prevailing winds. In that place death is a thing both longed for and feared most of all, and the taking of a life is a thing of beauty. It is in this novel that poetry asks us if we can validate reality over perception, rationality over visions, and the beauty of a life lived to its full once held encased in ritual and shrines.

A flower and a deck of Tarot cards.

This was all he had left.

He thought about the syringe in the pocket of his coat.

The Tower, ruin and death.

The Lover, choice and ordeal.

And an assassin.

Never forget the assassin.

The Devil.

The third card.

A crossroad.

A crossroad . . .

His eyes slowly closed, and he began to snore mildly, his

mouth pulled in a tense grin.

No, not a vegetable.

A flower.

A unique flower, in a special greenhouse. He had to protect

her, take good care of her, because she was invaluable, like some

strange South American orchid. Priceless, delicate, beautiful,

even in her artificial environment. A flower of memory and life

stopped. Frozen in time. Frozen in her Egyptian smile. Forever.

He nodded, letting the blind eye of the TV set reflect their

silhouettes getting up and leaving the room, until they were so

tiny they looked like dust specks, disappearing into the greyness

of the elliptic screen.

The third novel and in my opinion the starkest of them all, is firmly placed in Babylon, so that we get a feel for the darkness of the city itself. This is a place where poetry is controlled and owned by the government and smuggled out of the country by rebels to ensure its survival. In this world doped up strippers can blow up an entire room by a flash of their pubic hair and poets are the hapless victims of their essential drug addictions. Homophobia can kill you; murder is legal provided you have the right paperwork and enough money. Strangely, for me, this was the world that most resonated with the one we live in, and this I am sure is no accident. Poetry again is prevalent, and again the writer is the victim of his own talent. Some characters from the first novel are revisited here, but mostly it is a deeper look at the city. Where novel one was about what people did with their lives and their choices, and novel two was bout dealing with tragedy and loss, number three is about the small meaningless habits that will ruin your life. We had choice in novel number one, and therefore hope. In novel number three we are forced to recognise it is not our choices that will lead us astray, but our habits. The minute forces of nature that we think make the smallest amount of difference that in the end will be the death of us all.

Literary history was literally overcrowded with dead poets, she

remembered from her high school days—but she had never

imagined living with one, some day . . . She had been so bad in

literature . . .

Figure that: Sal’s muse was a complete literature imbecile.

She had to admit it was sort of funny, come to think of it . . .

She drank another sip to cover her painful smile.

The stripper was dancing in the middle of paper flames.

Red fire.

Cassandra thought about this for a second.

Flames.

Yes, she would burn Sal’s works tonight.

Make a nice fire of all his words, in the sink.

A funeral pyre.

Words of ashes.

A smoky triumph.

The stripper began to shake her shoulders to make her breasts

rotate.

The audience clapped and whistled.

The band ploughed on.

Burn, baby, burn.

You can probably guess that I really loved The Babylonian Trilogy. It’s not that the novel is without its faults – the flitting from story to story can create loose threads that interfere with plot recognition. The stand out for me in this novel is the brilliant character study that Seb Doubinsky has applied to the more than fifteen main characters in the novel. Never once was I bored or felt lost in the arms of one of Seb’s many protagonists. Normally this many main characters would be death for a novel, but here their stories were interwoven,  with such richness and depth that I had the intense privilege of immersion with each and every character. It is impossible to imagine that a reader could connect this deeply with so many different voices, and yet this was successfully achieved by this talented author.  Another aspect of characterisation that I loved was the connection with poetry as the narrator. I felt as though I was given permission to float away in order to examine from another place. The poetry always pulled me back, the mad man in control of the asylum, but I was never sorry to return. I felt as though I could view the many protagonists from inside their skin as well as through the eyes of a benevolent god, standing back to drink my fill of the broader scene.  In the end the winner in this novel is poetry itself, with its dark uncompromising ways, its devils laugh and its vicious core. I found myself swept away by the rhythm and the always questioning tone, forever expanding in its quest for what it means to be human.

Below the wing of the plane lay Babylon, flat and grey like a

piece of antique sidewalk. Stefan looked at it for a moment, until

he felt a presence by his side. A beautiful blonde stewardess

asked him with a charming smile if he cared for anything to

drink.

He ordered a double scotch on the rocks and looked down

again, but Babylon had vanished in the meantime, eaten forever

by the thick white clouds which rolled under the plane like the

big chunks of ice sometimes carried by the River Styx in spring.

Find out more about Sebastien Doubinksy here.

Purchase a copy of The Babylonian Trilogy here.

Seb has a new book coming out in August called Absinth and he has another one coming out early 2012 called The Song of Synth. Both will be published through PS Publishing. Go to their website here.

Advertisements