Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Marbury Lens - Jack isn't Crazy

If you haven't read Andrew Smith's THE MARBURY LENS, you should probably check out of this post now.  I'm going to spoil the hell out of it.  You've been warned.

Last year, I was taken by Andrew Smith's THE MARBURY LENS.  It was violent and raw and amazingly well written and it messed with my head.  I devoured it in a short time and didn't let a lot sink in.  I've been thinking about it lately and decided to read it for a second time, taking care to pay attention.

On my first go, I wasn't sure what Smith was getting at.  Was Jack crazy?  I had my own idea.  I thought that Jack never actually escaped Freddie Horvath's place.  That Marbury was an escape for Jack.  I also thought that Ben and Griff and Con were all there in Freddie's with him.

The thing about book is that we bring our own meaning to them.  I had a professor in college who was convinced that books only had one valid interpretation.  Which I still think is a bullshit pretension by someone who assumes they're always going to be right.  Even what the author believes becomes meaningless once the book is out in the world.  There are layers of meaning to every book.  A multitude of different ways to interpret them.

My interpretation of Marbury was different on my second read.  Interpreting THE MARBURY LENS depends on one decision:  Is Jack Whitmore a reliable narrator?

The first time around, I would have said no.  But this time around, I'm not so sure.  I think the fact that Jack questions his sanity, helps make the case that he is reliably reporting what he sees and believes.  Not what's real, but what he believes is real.

Once I decided that Jack was reliable, I decided to also believe that Marbury was real.  There are lots of little things that Jack talks about that made me believe that Marbury was a real place.  The first being that he has no reason to lie.  The second is when he talks about the worlds being like nesting dolls and himself being an arrow that transects all the different levels.  Worlds within worlds within worlds.  I'm a fan of quantum physics and the concept of multiple universes.  So this was easy for me to buy into.

So if you believe that Jack is telling the truth, and Marbury is real, then the question becomes:  Why does Jack keep returning?

Marybury is a land with no real night.  It's hot, there are no girls, no family, little food or water.  Bugs eat the dead, monsters torture you, rape you, and then eat you.  It's not a beach resort.  So why does Jack choose to leave his London vacation to constantly go to Marbury?  He even states multiple times that he's like a junky.  An addict.

I have two distinct thoughts on this:

One is that Jack is an addict.  Jack goes back to Marbury for the high.  Because Ben and Griff are there and they need him.  He knows it's bad for him but he does it anyway.  He's punishing himself.  He thinks he deserves to lose everything he cares about.  That he deserves to be in hell.  I mean, if he were a good person, why would Freddie Horvath have chosen him?  No, obviously Jack deserves what he's gotten.  And Marbury, while an escape, is also his punishment.

Two is that everything in Marbury is black and white.  There is Jack and Ben and Griff, and everyone else.  You're either human or monster.  The real world is full of phonies like Freddie Horvath.  People who present one face to the world (a doctor) while secretly kidnapping and raping kids.  The real world is a complicated, fucked up place.  Marbury is hell, but at least the monsters have brands.  They're easy to identify.  So Jack keeps going there because the real world is too much for him to take.  Is Henry Hewitt a bad guy?  Does Nickie really love him?  Is Con really his friend?  These are questions that don't have easy answers in the real world, but in Marbury, they do.

There are things I have questions about.  Was Henry Hewitt a ghost?  I think he had to be at some point. He gave Jack the lens (just like Seth did with the two blue ones), Con couldn't see him when he followed Jack to the bar.  However, we know he was alive and real at one point, because Con saw him in the pictures.  So I think that at some point, he dies and becomes a ghost.  If that's true, who killed him?

The other question I have is what the two blue lenses were.  The ones that Seth leaves behind when the bugs eat him.  Are they for Ben and Griff so that they can all get into Marbury or do they lead elsewhere?  I think they lead to another layer.  I'm open to thoughts though.

I'm also curious what you all think the connection between Marbury and the real world is.  Why do Jack and Con get sick when they transition from one to the other?  Why do they crave it when they don't return?

Lastly, is it possible that Jack both did and didn't escape Freddie Horvath?  If we're talking about nesting dolls and a multiverse, is it possible that Jack did escape Freddie and didn't at the same time?

Okay, that's what I've got.  I hope anyone who's read it will want to chat about it.


  1. It's difficult for me to discuss this objectively, because I've talked to Andrew about it a lot.

    But I will say that I absolutely think you are right that everything that happens is real, or is meant to be real, depending on how you want to look at it.

    Multiple dimensions, or multiple universes exist at once, so I suppose it is possible that Jack is still trapped at Freddie's while he is in London AND while he is in Marbury. I had never considered that.

    The thing for me (and I love your point about your professor) is that true creative work, be it a song, a novel, or even a painting, is going to touch each person in a different way, leaving each of us to interpret it differently. Because we are all only the sum of our experiences, and that effects our perspective profoundly.

    I think your analysis here is excellent, Shaun, thanks so much for sharing. There is one other blog post you should read about TML. I'll be right back with the link.


  3. Matthew: I emailed Andrew when I first read it. But back then, I was looking at it from a "this is all in Jack's head" point of view. Being a fan of Andrew and his blog, I'm sure he's got very specific ideas about what was going on. I would both love to hear them and hate to. I hope he writes the sequel he mentioned. I don't expect it to provide easy answers but I think there's a lot more going on than we get in the first book.

    I love reading about quantum physics and the multiverse and the thing that struck me about the connection between Marbury and the real world was that Jack exists in both places simultaneously. It's the glasses that allow him to be conscious of both. But when Andrew talks about nesting dolls, one of the levels he mentions is Freddie Horvath, and I wonder if the thing that ties the worlds together is killing Freddie Horvath. Jack and Con kill him in one world, then Jack kills him in Marbury. What if there's yet another world, one in which Jack and Con and Ben and Griffin are all prisoners of Freddie? It's an out there theory, but Smith really hammers us with the idea that Jack hasn't escaped. I mostly believes that he means that Jack hasn't escaped mentally or emotionally, but part of me wonders if there's a level where Jack is still physically bound.

    For me, as a writer, one of the coolest things is when a kid tells me something they got from my book, something they learned, and it was something I hadn't even thought of. That's one of the ways in which I feel our educational system is broken. We teach kids what to think rather than how.

    Sorry my post is somewhat incoherent. I usually write these posts very quickly in stolen moments during work. I could really take more care with them but if I waited for a good time to write them, I'd never get anything done.

    I actually read that whole thread that you're talking about and added a comment as I started rereading TML. I didn't know too many people reading it at the time, and I've been dying to discuss it. Thanks for chatting.

  4. I love this.

    Thank you, Shaun.

    First, yes... Jack is reliable. And I think you're absolutely right about two things: First, your college professor was an idiot (I think I had him, too), and, second, Jack keeps going back to Marbury because of that exact and precise simplicity: It may be hell, but it's an easy hell to figure out for him -- definitely NOT like here.

    Conner's the crazy one.

    And I really like your eye for physics in the book, too.

    There is another book about Marbury and Jack and the crew that I'll be able to "officially" talk about in the coming months, too.

    It's hard to describe it as a sequel, though, because something happens to scramble up those layers -- imagine taking the top half of one doll and putting it on the bottom half of another -- and then telling yourself, maybe the good old hell wasn't so hellish, after all...

    So I'll be sure and let you know all about that as soon as I can. But it is coming.

    A lot of people said NO! don't write a sequel... and, to be honest, I am not a big fan of series novels that really end up being one long 1500-page book.

    So that is definitely NOT what I did with Jack's universe.

    When I wrote the book, it was entirely my intention to write a personal reflection of something that I went through, but I wanted to do it in such a way that readers would have to make certain decisions on their own about the nature of Jack's universe and the choices he makes.

    Anyway, it's such an honor to have you consider these things. I know we'll talk a lot more in the future.


  5. I'm very glad to have the opportunity to discuss it too, Shaun, it's one of my favorite books of all time, and the fact that it leaves you with more questions than answers is the best part.

    Depending on what you believe about quantum physics I suppose there are theories out there that would say every possibility exists, simultaneously.

    I just think it's fascinating the way Andrew ties them together. He uses so many subtle hints, layers and echoes that you could probably never stop reading this book and still continue discovering new ones.

    Admittedly, I've only had the chance to read it twice so far, but I intend to go back, and I've already noticed new layers to be considered.

  6. Andrew: It's an honor to have you come by. I like the idea that Connor is the crazy one. I hadn't thought about it in that context, but it makes a lot of sense.

    I can not wait to see what else come from this idea. I think the best ideas that we have are the ones that come from our personal experience, right? But The Marbury Lens is one that just blows me away.


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