When I was a boy, I had an active fantasy life imagining there were two invisible ghosts, one younger, one older, on the balcony of the apartment where I lived with my parents. I developed over those elementary school years a whole mythology for them, not just about their ghostliness but a whole biography and family history as well as ongoing adventures.
A long time later, when I was an adult and going through a hard patch of loneliness and unemployment, I also made up a fantasy life. In this case, it was one of several scenarios based on what had happened if it studied other subjects in school and gone on to different careers. Again, it started off generally but soon developed its own complex structure with me living a completely separate life.
In both cases, changes of life led to me forgetting these fantasies and moving on.
In the case of Dick Covey, protagonist of THE VODI, he is revisiting a fantasy life he and a friend talked about constantly as kids. They built it up into something that was part of every aspect of their lives, only losing interest when they entered high school. Dick is in a position to revisit this as he is, at the beginning of the story, bedridden in a sanatorium due to Tuberculosis. He is in his mid 20’s and is a veteran of WWII (the story takes place in the late 1940’s early 1950’s).
Dick and his friend Tom created half- animal, half human, ferret like creatures called Vodi, who were arranged in a hive and presided over by a huge fat old hag named Nelly “who had only four teeth in her head”. They are responsible for everything bad that happens in life.
What The Void and Nelly mean to the story could be interpreted in many ways because this is a book with many themes, many topics all skillfully weaved together.
In fact this is one of the most complete novels I have ever read. The story is not especially complicated although it does move backwards and forwards but there is so much going on due to the fact that Braine is using the narrative to address many ideas, notions, opinions, observations. Using a novel as a vehicle for this type of exploration is difficult to pull off but Braine does it flawlessly.
Among the themes covered are the illness as life changing event and the idea of a good attitude as a cure, childhood patterns set early and attempting to conquer them in life, the growth of England after WWII and the end of a certain type of life, how hard it is to start a small business. All this plus very good commentary on the dating habits of young 20 something men and women at this time. Also in there is never giving up in the face of adversity. Dick’s illness teaches him this and at the end he is about to take a chance as far as an employment business opportunity involving his father and also not giving up on love chasing the woman he is truly interested in.
The end may seem a bit rushed as we go from Dick bedridden to Dick up and taking day trips away from the sanatorium and the final scene of him leaving very quickly for good but I don’t think all the connecting detail that is not explicitly written is going to be necessarily pertinent.
When one reads a book that that leaves you with a very full picture of the events described in conjunction with a solid theme or themes running throughout, I think it is fair to say that book is a masterpiece and THE VODI is such a book.
I’ve written about John Braine before http://rgdinmalaysia.xanga.com/660458883/in-praise-of-john-braines-brain/ I would say THE VODI is the best I’ve read by him so far certainly his most experimental, challenging, and complete novel.