A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin
Sherlock Holmes is ninety-three years old in 1947 and has recently returned from a trip to Japan. Having left London behind he resides in the secluded Sussex countryside where he tends his colony of bees and studies the anti-ageing effects of royal jelly. It is his research into holding back the degeneration of his mind that causes him to travel halfway across the world, determined to see and taste a Japanese plants known for its anti-ageing effects.
As Sherlock’s memory twists and fades, he reminisces about the people and places that have touched his life. His housekeeper and her fourteen-year-old son who lived with him for years until their brutal and devastating separation, a woman who was involved in a case he investigated that caught his eye like no other and the Japanese man in search of answers and a father figure.
Before you lose yourself in the story of Sherlock, the first thing to strike you within the first page of this novel is Mitch Cullins enviable way with words. His poetic and evocative style is the perfect compliment to Holmes reflective state, leaving you deeply immersed in his world. Although this novel won’t leave you jumping for joy there is something so beautiful about the tale and how it is told that the sad, nostalgic state you are left in is just as fulfilling. You cannot help but feel overwhelmed by the different griefs and pain that haunt each character, thinking back to them weeks (and most likely months) later. A Slight Trick of the Mind is not an attempt to continue the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories but an entirely separate look at a famous character who is slowly losing the skill that makes him so unique, beautiful yet devastating.
INTERVIEW WITH MITCH CULLIN
Thanks to the lovely people at Canongate Books I was able to submit a few questions to Mitch Cullin about his fabulous new novel:
When did the idea come to you to write a novel about an older Sherlock Holmes?
I always wanted to create my own take on the character since I was a boy, but it wasn’t until my father began showing signs of memory that I felt the need to explore the character as someone following the same trajectory as my dad. That is why themes of memory, and how memory defines us, are integral to the story, as is the underlying motif of lost father figures.
Were you nervous or put off writing such a famous character?
Not so much, otherwise I wouldn’t have even dared to write it. I was more concerned with making sure I was staying accurate to the details found in Conan Doyle’s stories, with a few liberties taken here and there. My goal was to do my homework well so I could then work with the character from my own vantage point.
Did you do any specialist research into Sherlock and Arthur Conan Doyle before you started writing him or did you want to approach him purely from your own direction?
Well, at the time my desk was certainly cluttered with Sherlock reference books. Oddly enough, though, the bulk of my most exacting research was done on bees, post-war Japan, and issues of memory loss.
You describe some stunning and unique locations in A Slight Trick of the Mind, did you manage to visit any yourself?
I did, actually. I went to Japan, doing so after having written the first draft. And I went to most of the places there that I had already written about, just to see if I had been accurate. For the most part I was surprised at how well I had described these places prior to having ever visited them. The glaring exception was Hiroshima castle which, in the first draft, I had for some reason described as being on a hilltop. In fact, the castle was street level, so I had to go back and fix that mistake on my part.
Throughout the novel Sherlock refers to his own degeneration but never actually admits to being afraid of his own death, is this because you believed he would fear a lack of intelligence more than death?
I do believe that, for my version of the character, the loss of his intellectual faculties and the ability to maintain identity through memory was perceived as being no different than death. That gradual obliteration of the self would be for him, as it would be most of us I think, the same fear as dying in a way.
In a Slight Trick of the Mind, Sherlock meets a woman he knows almost nothing about but becomes highly enamoured with, do you think is as close as he could come to love?
It’s a good question, but I am not sure I have a good answer for it. I think there is an aspect of the voyeur to the character of Sherlock, always watching and observing things, so I suppose that sense of detachment is also a form of safety and control. He can be engaged intimately with someone without having to get too close. That might work okay for cold reasoning, but it can get complicated when matters of the heart become involved. I guess the short answer would be, while I’d like to think otherwise, yes.
If Sherlock could say one last sentence to Mrs Keller what do you think it would be?
Oh boy, I have no idea. I suppose, perhaps, considering her fate, he would ask her the question for which there is no real answer: “Why?”
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