‘Gifts ought to be free, but they never are. They tie you to the wishes of others. To your own sad expectations. To the penitentiary of your dreams.’ Late one night, Thomas Ruder receives a strange package: a small blue box. Another such item is delivered to his friend Liselotte Hauptmann. These ‘gifts’ will change their lives forever. In the far-off border town of Grenze, a play is to be performed at the Sheol Theatre. Reynard the impresario expects a very special audience. Thomas and Liselotte, together with their friend Johann, are drawn into Reynard’s seductive web, as Daumen, the gift maker, must decide who his master really is. The Gift Maker is a story about identity, about fulfilling your dreams and becoming the person you always were … at whatever cost.
This is a book I have no words for. It is an exceptionally intricate story but at the same time very simple. Friends take separate trips as a result of a mystery a gift being delivered to each of them. Beliefs and self-awareness are brought into question as this is a story of self-discovery. I have spent a long time thinking about how to review this book as I can’t put into words the depths of this story. I went to Mark, the author, and asked him for his favourite excerpt and when he sent it to me I smiled and thought how perfect it would be just to have it instead of a full review as reading it triggered my emotions of the book and thought maybe it would do the same for you!
The truck began to slow. The driver stared fixedly ahead, his jaw set. They stopped, and so did the noise of the animals. The driver grabbed at the rucksack and began pulling it out from under the seat. Jo still had hold of the strap.‘You don’t have any right,’ said Jo.‘You’ve a lot to learn about life, you have,’ replied the driver. He tugged it fiercely, wrenching it from Jo’s grasp.‘Please, be careful. It’s precious. It mustn’t be cold.’‘What are you jabbering about?’ The driver rummaged in the rucksack, pulled out the jumper that was wrapped around something. ‘What is it, some kind of trick?’ He appeared nervous.‘Handle it gently,’ said Jo.‘You’re a queer article,’ said the driver, still not unwrapping the object in his lap. He looked from the jumper-covered box to the student and back again. ‘There’s something vibrating in there. It’s alive in there, isn’t it? Tell me what it is.’‘Look, but be gentle,’ was all Jo could say. He felt himself guided by something other than his own fear, or his own interest.The driver pulled the material away from the box. He stared down at it. He shook his head. ‘I’ve heard tales about these. Drunk-talk I thought it was. It’s best not to know the truth,’ he said. ‘But I knew there was something different about you soon as I saw you.’ He moistened his lips. His eyes were pained. He looked at the student as if seeking an answer, then he shook his head, as if trying to shut something out. ‘It’s best not to, isn’t it? It’s not mine. It’s not my road. I just do my job.’‘Open it.’The driver gave a short laugh. ‘Did you make it, or were you given it?’‘It won’t bite, just open it,’ said Jo.The man brought trembling fat fingers to the delicate clasp at the lid of the black box. He undid the clasp and slowly opened it. The music began. The lilting bell-like music. The melody was reminiscent of that which the driver himself had hummed earlier. His bearded face was underlit by the roseate light that spread out from the box. His eyes gleamed at what he saw in there. His face crumpled a little, as though some air had been let out of it. A doubtful smile played on the thick pale lips.‘It’s real,’ said the driver.‘As your own.’‘I won’t hurt it,’ said the driver. Jo leaned closer and saw that the tissue had reddened with life. The pulsing was even, willed, reliable.‘I know you won’t,’ said Jo. ‘We need to keep it warm, protected.’‘Yes,’ said the driver. ‘We do.’‘My mother’s,’ said Jo.‘Yes.’ The driver nodded, looked at the student. ‘I believe you,’ he said. He closed the box and the music stopped and the rose light fell from his face.
I want to thank NetGalley and Matthew at Urbane for my ecopy of this book and I would like to thank Mark for his little excerpt from his wonderful book.
Meet the Author
Influences: Jean Rhys, Franz Kafka, Anton Chekhov, Raymond Carver, Raymond Chandler, Alice Munro, Brian Pattern, Joseph Roth, and Christopher Priest
In 2009, Mark graduated with a First Class Honours Degree in English (Creative Writing and Critical Practice) from Ruskin College, Oxford.
Mark is also a musician and songwriter, and some of his songs may be found here: https://soundcloud.com/pumpstreetsongs
Among his favourite writers are: Jean Rhys, Franz Kafka, Anton Chekhov, and Christopher Priest.
The Gift Maker, his début novel, was published with Urbane in February 2017.