Sovereign Invalid by Alan Cunningham
Dostoewski Wannabe, 2018; 247 pp
Reviewed by Guia Cortassa


“It’s only when I lose myself for someone else that I find myself,” went an old Depeche Mode song, and this is so very true in Sovereign Invalid, Alan Cunningham’s sophomore novella.

Page after the page, you find yourself lost in a close tangle of lives, feelings and bodies. The eyes you seem to look through are never quite the ones expected, as selves and existences meld into each other while you’re busy focusing on mundane details of the everyday living that unravel before your own, in a cinematic sequence that runs in your head all the while reading.

Frames. Scenes. Quick actions. And the voices. Just as in real life, everything flows like a movie, never stopping, even when you do. You, the reader, are at the center of the action; you have a new identity to fulfil, and a story to tell—but it’s not your own, is it? But then, again, who is “you”? Who are you?

There had been a loving future together implied in such intimacy ad informality of language.

And the voices. Those around you, those inside you, and even your own—given that You is still the one talking and listening, or is it you? Voices that turn into skin. Skin to be bared, skin to keep secret: the body is a frame within the frame, the mortal reminder of your limits. Imperfect flesh moving from city to city, from person to person, from thought to thought. There is no need for names, or genders—it’s a multitude, and even more so in the inside.

You had not expected to feel like this.

You had not expected to think such thoughts and what is more, with much less hesitancy surrounding them.

You wanted, simply, to touch.

Alan Cunningham in his writing defies the sacred law of “show, don’t tell,” whispering in the reader’s eyes the truth that would otherwise be concealed. He does that working on a structure that is so true-to-life that, at a certain point, your breath is in perfect sync with every new line, and brace, and dot; hoping—and feeling—it would never end.