The Flying Man is a beautifully composed literary book, which is intelligently written and Etienne Bijnens has created something that is challenging and pleasantly baffling at times but it is held together with his poetical prose and its sense of purpose.
The book starts with a mystery as related by the first person narrator who is on the floor of a bathroom somewhere but he is not sure where or how he got there. We learn later that this man is called Leon and by following him through a sort of dream-like quest for truth where he is guided by, for want of a better word, “teachers”, we, like him, are enlightened. Bijnens reveals the meaning of his novel by degrees through hints which are suggested through a veil of vagueness, woven by Bijnens’ prose – vague enough to be puzzling and entice curiosity, but not vague enough to be incomprehensible. It reminded me of The Pilgrim’s Progress by Bunyan as it felt allegorical in what it was trying to do and it unfolds like something that David Lynch would create in a film. It is less a story of a person and their troubles and more a philosophical ambling with Leon used as the vehicle around which the discussion is centred. But is also about resolution for Leon; a coming to terms with things that have happened, and ultimately, an acceptance.
There is no doubt that this is a challenging read as it is unorthodox in its form; repetition is key to the way that the book develops and personally, I liked the way that phrases were echoed as I think that this mirrored the message of the book. I also liked the way that it evolved; it felt like a poem which you read and you sort of get the meaning but you’re not quite sure and so you reread lines to get a sense of them until suddenly, you have an epiphany where you understand what is meant and revel in that great feeling of having reached clarity. So, whilst this book may be a trickier read in some respects, it is rewarding, working on different levels and rather than making its purpose obvious from the start, it reveals itself with glimpses, like chasing someone in a labyrinth.
This book may be unconventional but it is engaging; it will make you think deeply, if you let it.
This review was first published on Reedsy Discovery where I was privileged to read it as an ARC.