Quilt

There is no equivalent of Equity for writers, no one to insist that you change your name if it happens to be the same as another author's. Nicholas Royle's first novel - I feel unsettled merely writing the words - is a story of loss and love. The narrator loses his father and leans on his lover. This same dynamic is hidden at the heart of one of my novels, a different aspect of which Royle wrote about in his outstanding non-fiction work of 2003, The Uncanny. It is a universal predicament; but for me it added to the uncanniness of reading Quilt.

Royle's treatment of bereavement is original and entirely his own. It has nothing to do with me. So why do I feel a frisson of slightly conflicted excitement when I hear from a friend that the book is shelved under Local Authors at Waterstone's Deansgate in Manchester, when Royle lives 270 miles away on the south coast?

When the death of the narrator's father appears to tip him into an inexplicable obsession with rays, prompting him to instal a large aquarium in his father's dining room and to stock it with freshwater rays, the psychosis, if that is what it is, might at first seem random. But a second reading of the novel provides early clues. His father's breathing is compared to "an immeasurably beautiful strange ancient fish glopping glooping groping grasping rasping for air", and on entry to the hospital the narrator leaves his father in his wheelchair "next to a large aquarium" while he goes to park the car.

But the seeds of the narrator's obsession have already been sown. A visit with his lover to an aquarium across the ocean, where visitors are allowed to touch stingrays that have had their stinging barbs removed, has caused the narrator great upset. O death, where is thy sting? It's right here. Royle captures the absolute dislocating strangeness of bereavement. It makes no difference that it is expected. The oddness of a loved one simply no longer being there is perhaps represented by the bizarreness of the rays that suddenly are present in the place of the deceased. They lurk in the substrate like grief, ready at any moment to flare up, and are remarkable creatures in themselves.

While the novel is bursting with inventive wordplay, Royle's use of language is most agile and beautiful in his descriptions of rays. In terms of narrative, the shifts in point of view have a sort of fairground quality to them, suddenly lurching, demanding your compliance, but it is the way the storyline ultimately develops that takes the breath away.

In the past, both Royle and I have received invitations to speak at conferences which have been intended for the other. For some people, it can be hard to tell us apart. It appeals to my sense of fun that it may now be a little harder. And to Royle's as well, I suspect.

Quilt
Nicholas Royle
Myriad Editions, 176pp, £7.99

Nicholas Royle's most recent novel is "Antwerp" (Serpent's Tail, £7.99)