Gollancz, 272 pages
Review Noel Chidwick
When at primary school my daughter and her friends went through a phase making folding paper finger games called paper fortune tellers. You remember them: origami models you opened and closed to the rhythm of a chant. The words written on the flaps revealed secrets of the heart, with the answers changing every time. Occupy Me folds and unfolds like a hyper-dimensional paper fortune teller.
We begin with Doctor Sorle, on his way to care for his dying billionaire patient. Doctor Sorle has no memory of why, how or when he took possession of a briefcase. It transpires that his body is borrowed—occupied—from time to time.
Quickly we shift to Pearl. Pearl is an angel. She works for a shadowy organisation called the Resistance, whose agents—the Angels— perform small acts of kindness to nudge humanity onto the right track. The Resistance seem to have foreknowledge and know just which butterfly wing to flap to create a tiny change with the greatest effect. That Pearl actually does have wings is neither here or there. Luckily for her in her undercover role as an air hostess, she can fold her wings out of sight in HD – Higher Dimensions. She knows nothing about herself, and emerged from an old freezer cabinet in a junk yard, making herself useful repairing broken equipment before joining the Resistance. She meets Doctor Sorle and the briefcase, just before the briefcase punches a hole through the aeroplane fuselage.
Pearl realises that the briefcase is more than an ordinary briefcase and is something to do with who she is. The story folds and unfolds many times as Pearl and Dr Sorle chase each other around the world.
The story moves to Scotland, and we meet Alison the hard-drinking, unflinching vet. A huge prehistoric creature appears and something nasty is left dead on the kitchen floor of an Edinburgh New Town flat.
Then things get weird.
Pearl is a lovingly-crafted character, buffeted by circumstance but still retaining an integrity of self as she discovers more about her origins. Sullivan mixes the mundane and the fantastical with ease and aplomb, often in the same sentence. It’s a fast-paced read, and for all its twists, turns and massive jumps we’re drawn in to the book and compelled to stay. As each new phase is revealed it’s easy to think, in Twitter-speak, WTF, but Sullivan deftly unfolds the story again and, in the universe of the book, it all makes perfect sense.
As Pearl begins to understand more about herself and her own bizarre origins, the nature of time and space are called into question, and we are treated to a beautifully poetic image of multi-dimensionality.
You’ll need your wits about you to follow the story and keep track of all that folding and revealing, but the result is a rewarding and exciting read.
This review was first published in Shoreline of Infinity 3.