Voog’s Ocean: a historical drama embedded with magic realist and spiritual overtones and a poetic and compelling new novel from Alan M Kent.
Readers of Kent’s previous novelistic output such as the social realist trilogy of Charlie Curnow books may be initially surprised that Kent has now shifted his attention to the opposite end of the historical spectrum. However, this dovetails exactly with what appears to be one of Kent’s key themes in his writing: a thorough and thoughtful examination of the Cornish identity and the Duchy’s impact on the wider world.
The geographical sweep and attention to detail in this novel is superb. Beginning in West Cornwall Kent introduces us to a fogou builder named Voog – who, after an unforgiveable indiscretion at the expense of a local village chief, is banished from his home. Displaced, he undertakes an epic seagoing journey assisted by a broad cast of unusual characters, many of who represent the evolving dynamic between pagan spirituality and the emergence of Christianity. Without wishing to ruin the plot of the novel Voog’s final stop on his journey works as an intelligent foreshadowing of Cornish migratory patterns in years to come.
The most striking thing about Kent’s writing in Voog’s Ocean is its sheer lyricism; something fitting with both the period in which the novel is set and the tone of many of our remaining stories from this era. It is also worth remarking on the verisimilitude of Voog’s voice. Having read countless novels where the narrator’s voice is clearly that of the author; it is refreshing to see in Kent’s sensitive and sparing use of dialect the cadences of Cornish speech. In addition to this I would commend to the reader’s attention the insight and understanding contextually relevant to Voog’s status: he knows what he knows and is an engaging and convincing narrator because of this. However, fans of the earthy humour and honesty Kent evinces in much of his written output will also not be disappointed. This is mainly due to the fact that although gifted with a poetic, storytelling voice Voog does not flinch from Kent’s trademark dark humour or covering the more unsavoury elements of the period.
As well as being a meticulously well-researched historical novel, Kent’s narrative also makes some interesting use of magic realism. This dovetails well with our lack of concrete knowledge of the era, and the myths and legend prevalent at this time – many of which were created by travellers such as Voog.
Rooted in Cornwall but with an acute awareness of the Duchy’s context in world history, Voog’s Ocean represents another positive phase of Kent ‘s journey to establish and delineate the specifics of Cornish identity.