Poetry Shelf review: Bryan Walpert’s Entanglement

Entanglement, Bryan Walpert, Mākaro Press, 2021

The reading process is such a curious thing. I often liken it to bridges. Some days I cross the bridge easily into a poem or a novel while on other days it is impassable. When it happens with poetry books, I often return to the bridge and find an open and rewarding route.

Bryan Walpert’s novel is shortlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards 2022. It has received a number of glowing reviews, and has really affected readers. Madison Hamill: ‘Trust me, this story will unfold like a set of dominoes arranged in the shape of your heart.’ David Hill in Kete Books: ‘In Entanglement, you feel that Walpert is frequently intrigued and surprised by his own material. The result is a story that jumps with energy, both emotional and intellectual.’

When I first started reading Bryan Walpert’s novel I loved it, and then I stalled and put it to one side. I stalled because my reading life is so fickle this year. Sometimes there are no bridges, sometimes there are myriad bridges that lead to balm, gold nuggets, simplicity, complexity, electrifying connections.

I have picked up Entanglement again, the love I first felt is stronger than ever, and yes, I am entangled in the premise, the characters, and the writing itself. What first beguiled me was the writing. The exquisite accumulation of phrases into long sentences, a slow accretion that adds to character and tension. Think of the tension on a loom or a set of knitting needles. This is a book to read and savour slowly, without skimming, to amass the threads and the stitches, andante. To appreciate the knots.

And yes, this is a book of knots – think the knottiness of time, the gnarliness of situation. The book you are holding is a book of time travel, a book of love and misstep, of ideas and apprehension. The structure enables you to step into time-travelling shoes as you move among three strands. Past present future entanglements. A novelist is undertaking research at Sydney’s Centre for Time. He falls in love with a New Zealand philosopher. A writer is doing writing exercises at a writing retreat at a New Zealand lake. They accrue like autobiography. Someone is travelling back in time, pulled by tragedies in the past that haunt but are not clearly understood. There is marriage, there is a beloved daughter, there is a severely injured brother. There is a compulsion to write and a curiosity about time.

Pretty much any book we write depends upon pleats and folds as our lives overlap, crease into living or a poem or a novel. In Entanglement strands overlap, pleat together, and that becomes a fascination as you read. The writing exercises raid a life and an imagination. The past present future rub against each other as time becomes unstable, uncertain. How do we define the present, how do we experience the now that is already past, the moment you blink it? Everything is suspect. Is it one person? Is it one conventional time thread?

I find the slowness of my reading shifts in the final third. The lure to know what happens to the time traveller takes precedence, and it jars to be pulled back into a reflection on free will and time arguments. I am hungry to keep reading. It feels like I am mimicking the traveller’s dislocation, grappling at the entangled lives and times and ideas, pulled breathlessly to a particular location – for me the last page – to make sense of whatever can be made sense of.

This is a writer taking a risk (you choose: Bryan Walpert, the narrator novelist, the narrator at the retreat, all three, all one). Am I reading the narrator as entanglement, shaped by tragedy, driven by curiosity at the level of physics and philosophy, smashing against the familiar and the unbeknown?

Reading becomes an exhilarating excursion, with risky climbs and turning bays for meditation. Yet at the heart, at the warm core of the novel, I find all things human. This is what makes Entanglement a haunting, moving read. It is the choices we make, domestic detail, daily routines, self doubt, self compulsion, the way we nourish those we love, the way we nourish and make sense of ourselves. It is the way we are human; intellectually and emotionally engaged. Entangled. The way we become entangled as we read. I toast this glorious book.

Bryan Walpert is the author of Late Sonata, winner of the 2020 Seizure Viva La Novella Prize, as well as a short story collection, four books of poetry and two of literary criticism. He is a professor in creative writing at Massey University, Auckland.

Mākaro Press page

Shortlisted for the Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction 2022

The Guardian on the Ockham NZ Book Award shortlists

Bryan Walpert in conversation about Entanglement with Neil Johnstone, Wellington Libraries

1 thought on “Poetry Shelf review: Bryan Walpert’s Entanglement

  1. Pingback: Poetry Shelf on live streaming the Ockham NZ Book Awards 2022 | NZ Poetry Shelf

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