by Marcus Speh
Folded Word Press (June 30, 2017)
$16 paperback (from Folded Word Press)
$5.99 Kindle (free with Kindle Unlimited)
I won’t spend too much time talking about when Marcus was Finnegan Flawnt, but you should know that Marcus was once a writer on the indie scene that other indie lit writers couldn’t talk enough about. He was like Basquiat in the 1980s New York art scene. He still is, it’s only now there’s that asterisk there under the conversation with that cool pseudonym. Like Basquiat, he is talented, charming, completely original, and when working under the pen name, mysterious without being in your face with it. He’s a natural, you know?
Over the past several years, he’s receded a bit, back to Berlin and his primary work of being a genius in other fields of study (yes, Marcus is bonafide that way. My daughter could possibly still believe he alone invented the internet, in fact). But let’s move along to his most recent achievement, the historical novel-in-flash Gisela, recently published by Folded Word Press.
Based on the historical queen and later saint Gisela of Hungary, Gisela, the book, bloomed in Marcus’s mind (that’s how I imagine it happening, blooming) from the idea of this influential woman who history forgot or, at best, made a footnote. How would the many pieces fit together, and how could he, Marcus, combine them to magical ends?
The end result is a beautifully crafted set of short pieces that can both stand on their own as exacting and fully realized works of literature but also, when laced together by Marcus’s skilled hands, become a full structure that is, for me, literally breathtaking, in that I seriously discovered myself holding my breath while reading at least half a dozen times throughout. For instance in sections such as one titled “The Witches” the reader feels as much under a spell as any character presented in the text. Here’s an excerpt:
“Gerbert, by the window, shuddered; his mouth contorted. The witch began to twist faster and faster while her twin was talking to Gisela, mumbling to her, marching old holy words straight through the child’s ear into her skull, where they entered the bloodstream and looked for the enemy. The monk’s fingers twitched in the same rhythm and he found himself falling into a trance. He knew it would be dangerous to witness the witches brewing and dancing but there was an energy in it that he’d missed badly since he’d been asked to educate the young princess. Gerbert didn’t even notice when the hags stopped, tucked the girl in, rubbed the concoction on her lips and left for the unseen place from which they had come. Gisela healed quickly thereafter: The fever fell that same night and she asked for solid food the next morning. She had no memory of what had happened, but when she bounced on one leg across the meadow in the castle yard, she chanted a little melody that had not been heard in church, an odd melody that made Gerbert’s ears prick up because he sensed the uncanny in it.”
To my mind (and I’ve read everything that Marcus has written that I’m aware is out there) this novel surpasses anything he’s accomplished to this point. It is no mind whether you have an interest in history or, in truth, even literature. Reading Gisela is to be fully enchanted, and that is the rarest of all states for any writer to place a reader. It may be the writer’s greatest achievement. Marcus set an extraordinary goal for himself in this and never faltered. We’re all richer for his effort and success.