There is a quality in James Ellroy’s fiction that evades analysis and exceeds his popular status as a successful author in the ‘crime genre’. This quality is in part connected to his demanding narratives, which inevitably leave one with the nagging feeling that there is a great deal one has failed to understand, and which prompt (often multiple) re-readings of his novels; but it is also connected to his stylistic and structural development, an aspect of his work that is generally ignored.
Patrick Holland’s Navigatio tells the story of Saint Brendan, a monk in early-Christian Ireland who embarks on a sea-bound pilgrimage. The religious nature of this premise offers Holland a degree of freedom from historical realism, and the oceanic regions explored by Brendan are thereby conceived as a realm of mythic and apocalyptic imagination. Brendan’s own pious heroism appears to be modelled on figures of classical mythology, as well as on the invincible heroes of Christian epic literature. The perils he faces are a fascinating blend of pagan and Christian lore, combined with a blurring of dream and reality that is facilitated through Holland’s distinctive style.