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Like his acclaimed Mandeville (2008), Matthew Francis’s fourth Faber collection explores a world of marvels, real and fantastic. A man takes off for the moon in an engine drawn by geese, a poltergeist moves into a remote Welsh village, and a party of seventeenth-century Englishmen encounter the wonders of Russia – sledges, vodka, skating and Easter eggs. The scientist Robert Boyle basks in the newly discovered radiance of phosphorus (the noctiluca of the title) and the theme of light in darkness is taken up by the more personal poems in the book: phoneboxes, streetlamps, moonlight. The joys of the world and of the imagination find their equivalent in Francis’s joy in the possibilities of language:
‘A basket of snow for the Empress / with a poem of
modest triumph: / I made this out of what does not last.’
At their best these tales of the unexpected are a treat ... full of suspense and charisma.
Francis has a taste for finding the exotic within the mundane and loves tall tales. Ghosts and lonely spirits haunt these pages but wordplay creates a sense of fun that increases the pleasure.
Francis shifts registers effortlessly, throws voices and generally whips the proverbial cast of thousands through his hoops with a ringmaster's aplomb.
Inventive, unashamedly clever, beautifully exact.
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