It can be quite exhilarating to realise that you don’t have much of an idea what’s going on, provided that you’re in the hands of a good writer. With her ambitious and frequently thrilling Occupy Me, Tricia Sullivan shows that she’s definitely capable of sending the reader on a dizzying and inventive journey.
Pearl is an angel, wings and all. When we first meet her she’s working as a flight attendant, just as she encounters Dr Sorle, a man on the run with a briefcase that means a lot to both of them. To Pearl, it’s got part of her stolen self locked inside it. To Dr Sorle, it’s somehow got the body of his incredibly wealthy and decidedly non-humanitarian employer inside.
After the pair exit the plane mid-air, Pearl begins the hunt for the man, the briefcase and the truth behind her identity. Because while she may have wings, she may not be heaven-sent.
The central plot at the heart of Occupy Me is essentially a manhunt. Of course, describing the plot like that leaves out the mutant frogs, the dinosaurs, the flaming pterosaur that comes flying out of the briefcase when it’s opened, the international conspiracy and the time-bending rules and consequences.
Yes, there is a lot packed into a slim 272 pages, and Sullivan shows both a giddy enthusiasm for the possibilities that her ideas offer and a confidence that the reader will be able to keep up. Hopping around between time periods and locations, this is a book that demands your concentration, and rewards you with a story that’s thrilling, moving and often quite funny. We’re huge fans of Scottish veterinarian Alison, who responds to being faced with the impossible with a wholly relatable combination of grim determination and a fair amount of whiskey.
Pearl herself is a great creation, someone whose instinctive need to help people puts her at risk and often prevents her from really getting to know them. Some of the most affecting scenes in the novel are those in which she tries to make the best of a bad situation, whether it’s helping neglected dogs or helping to soothe the nerves of nervous flyers with a little subconscious suggestion. Her identity as an angel is one of the novel’s most important plot points, but Sullivan gives her a real physicality too. She’s not just a bleeding heart with a pair of wings; she’s desperate for human contact, and those wings are absolutely fantastic.
Her warm personality and Alison’s stern good sense are just two of the ways that Sullivan anchors the swirling fantastical elements of her story. Dr Sorle’s back story provides her with the opportunity to add a tragic human element, and there’s an undercurrent of sinister capitalist intrigue throughout that we don’t want to spoil here. But it’s also a novel that jumps from a pub in Edinburgh to a primordial landscape where the building blocks of life can be found inside trees – provided you don’t get eaten by a roving dinosaur first.
It’s a fiercely creative piece of sci-fi that grabs you by the wrist and takes you running along with it. There are bumps along the way and moments where you wish it would slow down, but it’s hard to complain when the experience is this compelling.