When construction worker James Purdew, the protagonist of Sam Taylor’s ambitious psychological thriller The Amnesiac, breaks his leg in an accident, he spends his convalescence obsessing over the three years of his life he cannot remember. Returning to England in search of answers, James gets a job restoring an old house for an anonymous landlord. As he works on the house, he discovers a 19th century manuscript hidden in the walls—a story that inspires even more questions about his past.
On the scale of labyrinthine, puzzle-box entertainment, with A.S. Byatt’s Possession being the brilliantly satisfying pinnacle and ABC’s pointlessly complex Lost being the nadir, The Amnesiac falls on the side of Possession... but only just. At 381 pages, Taylor’s novel is 100 pages too long, his plot borrows heavily from the work of Jorge Luis Borges, and he writes with a clumsy, faux-earthy style that is awkward and implausible. (“He kept a collection of flyswatters to hand. They were doubly useful. With the head of one he would murder insects; with the handle of another he would scratch at the dead, flaking skin inside his cast.”)
The Amnesiac has solid bones: the murder mystery subplot is intriguing, Taylor is capable of evoking a deliciously creepy gothic atmosphere, and we'll give him points for the complexity of his plot. Should he ever abandon his lofty literary pretensions and focus on straight-up storytelling (or at least divide his efforts between the two), it is possible Mr. Taylor could write a truly great novel.