Genre: Historical fiction, set ca. 1835 in a parody of the modern Western world and told through a series of letters. I based a lot of the places my protagonist (Horace) visits on cultural theories I encountered as an Art History student and Horace’s experiences on my own struggles abroad.
The country of Anglina is teeming with social upheaval, and its officials have found an unlikely national hero in a philosopher and social activist named Horace. The Anglinian government has appointed the effeminate, irreverent, and stubborn scholar to undertake a journey around the world to learn the secret of other countries’ success. Unfortunately for Horace, most of the societies he visits turn out to be drastically different from what he expected, and he repeatedly sends scathing but witty reports about his travels and the people he encounters.
Horace is dedicated to serving his country and takes pride in his assignment, but as his journey progresses, he begins to suffer from isolation and repeated failures at integrating into different societies. Not only does he grapple with bureaucracy, language barriers, and foreign climates, he is also confronted with ghosts from his own past. Incarceration in one of his destinations unleashes waves of self-doubt and an identity crisis, but Horace perseveres in the name of Anglina and out of self-respect. His determination pays off: just as he has all but lost hope, Horace encounters a series of communes whose inhabitants welcome him into their ranks and open his eyes to more a liberal and egalitarian way of life.
Reader review: “Into the Void” is a novel filled with rich detail as it follows the protagonist, Horace, on his many travels. The letter format serves the plot well, as we, the audience, are left to sometimes ponder and think of some of the responses Horace may have had from his recipients – a nice method that encourages the reader to interact with the material. Horace’s exploration of the other countries successes often uncover the unexpected, a realization that many of us may have at one point or another in our lives. It’s easy to imagine ourselves in Horace’s shoes on occasion (which probably look fantastic!). I think that Emma Stein has done an excellent job with “Into the Void” – it’s not easy to weave criticism, humour, and un/intentional social commentary throughout a novel – Horace carries it along admirably!
And last of all, here is some information about the author:
Emma was born near Chicago in 1986 and has lived abroad since 2008. Her experiences in France, Canada, Germany, and Russia influence her work considerably. Theories from Cultural Studies and Sociology form another cornerstone of Emma’s work, which she enlivens with wit and unexpected spins on the order of things. Her penchant for pinpointing the foibles and follies of both herself and her fellows is a fine source for her satires, be they written or illustrated.
Emma has lived in Germany since 2011. She currently resides in Kiel, where she continues to surprise the natives with the historically inspired clothing that she designs and wears.