It took me several days after finishing ⟅R̫o̮s̫k͚e̫’s debut novel, Strung, to figure out how to write about this book cogently. It might speak to the smallness or traditional structure of the literary spaces I typically move in, but I can honestly say that I, as a reader, author, poet, and academic, have never seen anything quite like Strung. The nearest comparison I could make, fittingly for the lyrical writing and musical motifs that riddle this novel, comes from the modern music industry instead of prose.
Much like the great concept albums of the 20th and 21st centuries, masterworks like Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Prince’s Purple Rain, and Beyonce’s Lemonade, that blend music, storytelling, and distinctive visuals, Strung is what I have decided to call a “concept novel”. Yes, there is a relatively straightforward story in these pages, a slow-burn, magical romance between a woman caged by society and a fae sacrificed by his people, but there are also illustrations (some beautiful, and some vaguely unsettling), complicated linguistics á la Tolkien’s elvish, and an insistent recourse to musical elements, allegories, and allusions that are impossible to ignore. ⟅R̫o̮s̫k͚e̫ obviously had a vision when crafting this novel (because it is crafted, as much as it was written), and they pursued that vision relentlessly.
Like the concept albums mentioned previously, if these elements are something you, as a reader, enjoy, then this is a novel that you will enjoy. There are those, myself among them, who will hold The Wall or Lemonade up as generation defining pieces of art, just as there are those watched both and shrugged them off. This is no knock on those viewers, or the creators of these media pieces, all consumers and creators of art are allowed their own opinions and preferences, as nuanced or simplistic as they would like.
However, if this all sounds a little too complex, or dense (and this is a long, complex novel—there can be no doubt about that), if you are the kind of reader who prefers novels that do not require a full glossary and your own, occasional linguistic notes to fully appreciate the character relations, then this might not be the story for you. This is a novel in love with its own creation, and the resulting piece is certainly stunning, rife with subtle language that will likely reward repeat readings, but there are times when the author seems more interested in the conceptual elements: the nuances of the fae language, the reoccurring musical motifs, or the complicated dynamics of the restrictive social order they created in this world, rather than the storytelling itself. I found this most prevalent in the conclusion to the novel, which felt a little hollow in ways that I was not expecting.
That caveat in mind, Strung is an incredible debut from a creative visionary. I do not know if this is ⟅R̫o̮s̫k͚e̫’s singular, magnum opus, or if they will treat readers to future works of similar magnitude, but this is definitely an experience of a read, and one worth pursuing for those willing to put in the time.