Notes from the overground: watching him watching her.
Agency Woman is an Absurdist novel, featuring a quote from Soren Kierkegaard twice in its text. Despair is at its center.
Absurdist spies who live in interior worlds people this story. Fyodor Dostoyevsky meets Franz Kafka on the way to a Woody Allen film, or Foinaven Mountain in the Highlands of Scotland in this novel.
Jim, the antihero or perhaps Byronic hero suffers from, among other maladies, an inability to find meaning in life or work, but leads us to believe he still seeks inherent value, despite his history with “The Agency” and his tortured (literal and figurative) past.
Kierkegaard developed his existentialism to meet these conflicts head on: commit suicide to escape absurd ineffable choices; choose a non-rational transcendent “leap of faith”; or finally accept the Absurd and achieve freedom from moral constraint. Freedom or lack of freedom figures prominently in Logan’s newest work.
Most of the male characters in this novel (Munroe, Tim, Samuel) seem not to have any meaning or purpose and the first-person narrator leaves it to the reader to figure out what they are doing and why. Their situation is absurd and they appear to have chosen to accept The Absurd. There are two exceptions: the German tourist and Lachlan.
Only the two female characters have been given a purpose: Lucy, the Agency Woman and Elsie, Lachlan’s aunt. Interestingly, they both claim to be or have been nurses, healers, real or imagined.
As Kafka used Gregor’s transformation into a giant insect, to tell us of an oppressive and inescapable system, trapping his subjects in bizarre situations, Logan uses a dream of transformation into scorpions to reveal the interior landscape faced by Jim; to tell of his self-loathing and despair. Kafka never told us why Gregor woke up an insect one morning. Logan’s narrator does not tell us nor speculate either. Jim is also a narcissist, looking at his own reflection in a mirror while a man lies dying in the same room, Lucy serving as a kind of accessory with red shoes, to mirror his existence. The absurdity of pop culture even makes several jarring appearances, in similes and metaphors.
There is in Agency Woman, however, a more traditional structure than we would expect from Kafka. But we find the same alienation, physical and psychological brutality, somehow not terrifying in this novel.
Dostoyevsky’s narrator of Notes from Underground does not even have a name. But like Logan’s Jim Balkergan, he is isolated, misanthropic, and fearful of attaining his goal. He is a veteran of the Russian civil service; Jim is a veteran of “The Agency.” Both are intensely attached to suffering. Both see themselves as unattractive. Both have a sense of the absurdity of their existences.
“But this menu of sea and sand and peace, it’s a foreign language to me. I need a translator. No , no, that’s wrong. I’m doing fine. Just lying here. I won’t need a translator, at least I wouldn’t need one, if I was just left alone here and not expected to talk about anything. But she will be here soon. For me. For the rucksack and its contents. For her Agency job. Her career. God, if they could just have left me in peace.”
About freedom, Jim says: “I’ve been asleep, dreaming, thinking who knows what. And now the dream is over. The nightmare of freedom, over at last. Now I’m a turtle that’s been flipped over on its back, left helpless, for later.”
“I had wanted the freedom, craved it, but once it arrived it had made no sense to me. Life, without the context of the Agency, I hadn’t been able to work out what to do with it.”
Some readers will be pulled in by the physical interaction between Jim and Lucy; some will be drawn to the beauty of the Highlands (Logan’s mastery of descriptive detail is wonderful); some will like the Peckinpah-like violence; but some, like this reader will respect the quality of the writing and the intellectual orgy of absurdism.