Maste has vanished. His wife Margarita (yes, Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita inevitably comes to mind) begs her friend Natasha to help. Natasha is a psychologist and a fortune-teller but, most importantly of all, she’s a witch. Her sisters, Olga and Irene, also highly intelligent (and beautiful) witches, agree to join Natasha on a wildcap quest across the world (each part of the book is set on a different continent) to find out what happened to the missing ‘madman’.It’s an unusual book, quite different from Marek’s previous titles, the semi-autobiographical Symphonic Bridges and the elliptical Pro-vocation (written in ‘real time’ on the website Authonomy).
The Cave is a Rabelaisian, almost Milesian, romp, using humour to offset the deep spiritual and philosophical deliberations of the novel. Its language veers from the pedantically anal to the rhetorically extravagant (or, as it has been described, ‘grotesquely flamboyant’), playful, humorous and sometimes joyfully crude – as wild as a broomstick ride across the skyline of Manhattan (in lieu of Moscow) by night. It enjoys the same love of language as Symphonic Bridges but is, I suspect, more accessible by dint of its strong characterisation and surprising shifts in location and pace.
What’s it about? Really? Well, everyone sees something different in a book, of course, but to my mind it’s about life, about conscious living, about the stormy search for Self. Each sister undergoes a profound personal journey in the course of the book, changing into…something else? Olga takes the slow ‘baby steps’ route to enlightenment, becoming the Mistress of Breath while Natasha metamorphoses into the miraculous Mistress of Light. But perhaps the most appealing character is the bawdy, hard-living, tough-talking, no-nonsense Irene who scoffs at her sisters’ increasing spirituality and sticks firmly to her regime of whiskey-swigging, fag-smoking, steak-eating and casual sex (with the strict proviso that one night is always enough). She’s an every(wo)man, a modern-day pilgrim navigating the world in black leather and high heels. A head-turning heartbreaker, she is undoubtedly a Mistress of Sex who may eventually become the Mistress of Love.
Ah, love. Love. It’s the bottom line, of course. And I love that The Cave makes us ask questions. Who are we? What are our limits? Do we actually have limits? What is consciousness? How far can science or gurus provide us with answers? What is the purpose of life? What is the one question? Is Love the answer? The reason?
Then, just when your head starts spinning (or turning into a pumpkin) there’s another shift and you’re eavesdropping on Friends in New York or sharing a group hug with the cast of Lost, diving into bed with an animagus or getting high with a snorkel in the bath.
Which (witch?) is just as it should be. For I don’t believe spirituality needs to be po-faced and dour, worthy and hairshirtish. Far from it. The Cave is a total delight, a metaphysical masterpiece. There’s even a cat – called Behemoth of course.
Marek is an extraordinary writer and, as the world latches onto the need for a spirituality grounded in everyday unreality, I strongly suspect his books will become cult classics.