Gianluca Cameron’s Utopia reads simultaneously like a fever dream and a surreal translation of a philosophy text:
“Ennui is the ultimate symptom of privilege.” and “After all, if you improve yourself, are you really you afterwards? What is the self but a bunch of oscillating memories?”
There is a narrative to discover in Utopia, but my retelling of a plot (which is pieced together artfully with non-sequiturs) can do little to say what this book actually is. It’s a chaotic, stream-of-consciousness, bizarro, psychological/body horror, sci-fi, dystopian utopia. We quickly jump between timelines, dimensions, and points-of-view, which further adds to the surrealism. Though there are occasionally insights from other characters, we mainly focus on a man named Niko, his friend Raoul, and a green woman who grew out of a giant flower, Patema.
Cameron’s use of language is impressive and often poetic, and the philosophical questions he weaves rapidly throughout Utopia were at times confusing, but instead of it being a frustrating experience for the reader, it added to the surreality and highlighted the confusion the characters experienced throughout the book. It all serves to highlight how we, in modern society, live insular, self-centered lives without regarding the feeling and well-being of others, explicitly ignoring the evidence of suffering:
“I could not talk to these men because their experience was too alien to me. They spoke a different language that I couldn’t even hear, let alone comprehend.” and “…as I walked, I noticed some interesting graffiti. One depicted a tower made of people and another was of a tree growing from a corpse. They were intriguing, but I didn’t know what they meant. They probably didn’t mean anything.”
Thematically, I find this book hard to pinpoint. My gut tells me that there’s a clear allegory for the afterlife to be found, but I also feel driven and encouraged to live my life to the fullest, even through the absurdity.
“Have you ever felt like a cipher? That you and everyone around you are not human beings but characters in a story? Mere catalysts for events? Do you view them from afar as a human views a play?”
It’s loaded with lofty metaphors and references to both literature and film, as well as religious symbolism:
“Baphomet cradled my soul in a manner reminiscent of Michelangelo’s Pietà,” and “…Patema had been born for our sins.”
A few ideas and references went over my twenty-nine-year-old head, which is almost twice as old as the author’s head when he wrote this. Cameron was born in 2001. That makes him 19, and his bio mentions that this book was written when he was 15 and 16. You can tell from his writing in Utopia that he is talented and eager, and I think we can look forward to a great authorial career from Cameron.