Dragonfly, Jari Moate, Tangent Books, 2018, pp.300, £8.99 (paperback)

Jari Moate’s novel Dragonfly begins with an ex-soldier known only as Marine P who, after serving in Syria, ensconces himself in an abandoned chocolate factory in Bristol. But what happens next is far from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as P must battle both his inner demons and the malevolent forces of the outside world.

Dragonfly’s drama stems from P’s struggle with his PTSD, which Moate renders with a sympathetic accuracy that is a far cry from the clichéd sensationalism of action movies. Moate defines the condition as ‘Man-management with gasoline’, which has put P into a ‘corner of hell’. At the same time, P is an unreliable narrator, difficult to trust or admire, prone to acts of unpredictable violence.

P’s unstable perception of reality adds a strong dose of magic to the realism of this story. Often the two elements are in conflict. ‘My dead don’t rise,’ P asserts before he starts hearing the voice of a dead soldier. When this and other phenomena contradict his preconceptions, his sense of estrangement increases, as does the narrative tension of the novel. Sometimes Moate’s descriptions of P’s mental state can be tricky to follow, such is their disjointed nature, but the reader is never less than convinced of P’s antagonism towards the world that has so badly mistreated him.

At the base of that mistreatment is violence, which is both a moral theme in Dragonfly and a device that gives the book its pace and energy. From the ‘flames that rip across the back of my head’ in the first half of the story to the ‘explosion [that] takes all three of them out’ later on, the raw and disturbing imagery is consistent with P’s self-hatred and all-consuming regret. A near-constant stream of bloody fighting arcs across P’s military back-story and his present-day tribulations in Bristol. One of the flashback chapters is called ‘Day Zero Minus Six Months’ which counts how much time has passed since the traumatic incident.

Despite the violence, Dragonfly’s language is lyrical and often poetic. The titular tattoo of a dragonfly on P’s neck is a telling metaphor for the emotional mutations and ruptures that define his post-traumatic existence: ‘The blood-loss was me changing, breaking out of my chrysalis…not knowing…how many days I’d live once I got airborne with it’.

Moate has written a captivating balance between action thriller and fabulist head-trip, which reflects on the effects of war on friendship, love and inner-self.

Words by Georgina Monk.
To buy Dragonfly by Jari Moate, visit Tangent Books.

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