The Unraveling of Mr. Lint
Reading David Syatt’s novel, The Unraveling of Mr. Lint, I found myself drawn into a fantasy tale that was at once simple and complex, strange and familiar. Syatt mines a genre having less to do with wizards and fantastical beasts and more akin to the discovery of a new and hidden world. His hero, Henry Lint, is an anonymous functionary at a London financial house, not just unknown but irrelevant, until one day on a lark, he decides to sign his name to one of the innumerable forms he is responsible for filing. The act of signing his name sets off a series of events revealing to him a long lost relative and an ancient mystical power. Henry Lint’s unraveling occurs as we watch him “struggling against fantastical elements controlled by a mad demi-god and pushed forward on a mission to save mankind.”
We begin in London in the early years of the 20th century. Henry is “the only son of a sullen chimney sweeper and a tired mother” but as his signed document exchanges hands and finally falls into that of the client, we discover that Henry is actually the last Tundrastone. Lord Tundrastone draws Henry to him revealing his lineage, one touched by a deep, mystic power called only The Elements. It is a kind of magic that allows one to be in tune with the entirety of the natural world as well as to control it. Enter out demi-god villain Erich Strauss, who has consumed most of The Elements power in an effort to be world dictator.
It would have been easy for Syatt to embrace a sort of steampunk aesthetic for his story and the fact that he resisted in favor of a more reserved Victorian whimsy speaks well to his imagination. For example, Lord Tundrastone’s massive limousine (a very very new creation during the early 1900s), the wonderfully named Accipiter whose “interior was nothing less than a travelling sitting room with stately couches, a glass table and full bar.” Equally engaging are “those avaricious scoundrels,” Wid and Haight, Henry’s bosses who have a kind of Neil Gaiman quality to them as necessary side characters who routinely steal scenes. Exaggerated, but not cartoonish, a skill that few fantasy authors possess.
The plot, the premise, is nothing especially noteworthy. Syatt makes sure to check off all of the Joseph Campbell quest points while insert enough variety to assuage genre readers who routinely encounter this technique. The focus of the novel is just how Henry comes to be who he is. In this manner, Syatt has crafted a very accessible Bildungsroman whose surface message is rather simple and direct though still difficult to accomplish: “Being an individual is more than writing your name on a piece of paper, Henry. It’s about being a force. Of blood and bone and courage!”
As the world spins farther and farther away from what Henry knows to be normal, and he feels he is losing the ability to grasp what is going on around him, we watch as Henry rises to the occasion. Syatt’s prose moves swiftly and seamlessly, getting us to Henry’s confrontation of self with a bright dramatic tension. Enduring a trial deep in a cavern where the rules of space and time seem suspended, Henry confronts an aged version of himself, an iteration that finally allows him to take authentic action:
“Henry, all we’ve ever done is ‘be’! That is the story of Mr. Lint. Acceptance of a dull life. Comfort in concealment and anonymity. But, we stopped being Mr. Lint the moment we signed our name! And we can’t be Mr. Lint now.”
The Unraveling of Mr. Lint is an adventure story first and foremost. Syatt is able to create a tale that is compelling on its own but then takes on a deeper, more complex aspect as the fantasy is challenged. While it may appear as though Henry Lint is our hero, twists and turns reveal a much more nuanced story, one where by the end “Real stories poured in from every direction. No magic. No adventure. No heroes. Just people trying to understand what happened.”
David Syatt is a professional writer who enjoys good storytelling. He is the author of the horror novella,”The Schulz Sculpting Institute,”and numerous short stories which have been collected in the volume,”The Non-Canon Voyages of the Starship Unity.” Visit him on Instagram @dsevanwrites
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