Adventurers, archaeologists and adherents alike have long sought—only to be stymied in their search for—the site of the Garden of Eden, that portion of paradise where many people believe humanity took root. In his phenomenal first novel, the poet, painter, and performance artist Brian Catling posited that it might at last be located in the Vorrh, a vast (albeit fictional) forest in the heart of Africa. In the ambitious if middling middle volume of what in 2017 turned out to be a trilogy, he expanded the scope of his suggestive story substantially, to take in characters from Bedlam in London, the colonial compound of Essenwald and a retirement home in Heidelberg: a litany of lost souls that would only be found, finally, in or in relation to the good woodland.
The Cloven closes the book on those disconsolate characters at the same time as advancing the overarching narrative of Catling’s exceptionally weird series, which can be seen in sum as a sinister subversion of the Christian tale of creation. Adam and Eve, it has it, were never meant to be anything more than minders in the Garden of Eden—they simply grew too big for their boots when they tasted of the forbidden fruit. The knowledge it contained was meant for the trees, you see, and they, as much more multifarious beings than we mere people can see, have had a chip on their sturdy shoulders ever since. Now, though… now the time has come for them to take what’s theirs, and I dare say it won’t end well if we stand in their way.