I love the way The Drowned Detective, by Neil Jordan, is written. It just feels so incredibly oblique and dreamlike, which works well in the confusion of the story itself and our inability as reader to tell the difference between what is real and imagined. Does the title of the book refer to the fact that the main character, Jonathan, is so unsure of himself, his family, his life in Prague, or does it refer to his leap into the river and everything that came after it? I just don’t know and that is how I feel about this book as a whole. I just don’t know if I liked it or loved it.
One would imagine that a book with such a title would be a detective mystery and I suppose that it is, but Neil Jordan’s unique way of storytelling also makes this feel like a ghost story and so the book ends up genre defying. It’s certainly not an easy book to describe, nor is it unmissable. The fog that is often mentioned in the book enfolds you as the reader, so that clarity becomes utterly elusive and I suppose that at the end of the day, that’s what is so damn clever about this novel.
The Drowned Detective tells the story of Jonathan, a private detective, living in a troubled Prague. Whilst working on the case of a missing girl, he saves the life of a young woman who he witnesses jumping into the river. He returns the woman to her home and he goes back to his, failing to mention the incident to his wife or daughter. To say that Jonathan has a complex set of female relationships would be an understatement, the woman, his wife, his daughter and a psychic friend all contribute to a novel in which nothing is said and all things are implied. The novel itself even lacks direct dialog, so that you move through it as if through a fog.
At just over 250 pages this isn’t a long novel and although interesting, strange and dreamlike, it is also profoundly unhappy. If you are in the mood to journey, or are looking for an interesting book club read, then please embark, but otherwise it might be better to pick up something else. I found myself hankering to pick it up each night before I went to bed and found it hard to believe that I could read fifty pages each time, where nothing concrete had really happened. It’s a slow, beautiful and melancholy journey of a read.