The Known and Unknown Sea
This haunting and comic fable from the author of "The Sleepwalkers' Ball" is a beautiful and heartbreaking journey through memory, loss and imagination. Rumour and suspicion engulf an eerily fog-bound town as its residents begin to receive tickets promising passage across the mist-shrouded bay to the mysterious 'other side'. For Alex and his family, this seems like the beginning of a great adventure, but as reports of a shadowy, half-glimpsed ship start to circulate, so too does the gossip and anxious speculation. "Why have some been selected and not others?" "Who are the employees of the enigmatic White Star Shipping Company?" "And what ultimately awaits the passengers as they pass over to the spectral and unseen other side?" Bilton has created an alternate universe, vividly detailed but utterly ambiguous, absurd and bewildering, a dream that lingers in the mind long after the last page is turned. Dreamlike and immersive, "The Known and Unknown Sea" is a pantomime nightmare, surreal, terrifying and hilarious, full of masks and metamorphoses. It's a world seen through the eyes of children, magical, kaleidoscopic and incomprehensible, beautifully characterised: the fierce Bethan, little Hwyl with his rag-doll indestructibility, the bearded ogre of The Ship's Doctor. The book is a darkness lit by flashes of blinding light and sudden, bewildering changes of scene, an infinitely spiralled, inescapable world that echoes with strange voices: Freud and Dylan Thomas, Dante, Kafka and Gunter Grass. * * * Alan Bilton was born in York, UK in 1969. In keeping with the two main sources of employment back then, his family either worked on the railways or in chocolate. Unlike his more practical and mechanically-minded brothers, he became neither a surveyor nor a train-spotter. Rather, he received his undergraduate degree in Literature and Film from Stirling University in 1991, and his PhD (for a study of Don DeLillo, an author with whom he has absolutely nothing in common in any way) from Manchester University in 1995. He then taught American Studies at Liverpool Hope University College and Manchester University before moving to take up a post teaching literature and film at Swansea University in 1996. He is married, with one small child and one hairy dog. His first novel, The Sleepwalkers' Ball, described by one critic as 'Kafka meets Mary Poppins', was published by Alcemi in 2009. He is also the author of books on silent film comedy, contemporary fiction, and America in the 1920s, alongside short stories, essays and reviews. He teaches Creative Writing, fiction and film at Swansea."