When Magpie discovers her own dead body one misty morning in Bristol, it prompts her to uncover the truth of her untimely demise. Her investigations take her on a terrifying journey through multiple realities, experimental treatments, technological innovations, and half-memories in a race against time and sanity. Accompanied by a new friend who is both familiar and strange, and constantly on the run from the terrifying, relentless presence of the mysterious predator known only as Silhouette, Magpie must piece together the parts of her life previously hidden. In doing so, she will discover the truth about her past, her potential, and her future.
This is a review that I have been meaning to write for quite a while now. I have been holding off as I wanted to give myself time to truly let the story settle in my mind so that I can do it absolute justice. If that doesn’t tell you how much I value this book, nothing will!
‘Full Immersion’ follows Magpie, a woman on the brink. Simply put, Magpie is struggling with life, and in a desperate attempt to save herself she agrees to an experimental treatment involving the use of Virtual Reality. As the treatment begins, Magpie’s consciousness, unaware that she is in an augmented reality, discovers her own dead body, and so begins Magpie’s journey through the layers of her past life, slowly pulling down her protective walls and knitting together her fragments of memory in an attempt to build them skywards.
Author Gemma Amor makes no qualms about the fact that key aspects of Magpie’s struggles are auto-biographical. It is not for me to guess or assume the extent of the main character’s similarities to Gemma, but for me the auto-biographical nature of the character was something that influenced my reading of the novel. It gave the story a lyrical and poetic quality; what you are reading feels very real and very personal, and this only makes you feel all the more attached to Magpie.
The general format of the story follows Magpie travelling through ‘core’ memories in her lifetime. The traversing through different memories absolutely had a dreamlike quality to it, not least because of the augmented reality that it takes place in, but the experience also felt reminiscent of how you supposedly see your life flash before your eyes before you die. Because of this it truly feels like the stakes are high; this is a watershed moment in Magpie’s life, a final chance to change things for the better. The book masterfully carries the weight of pressure and expectation; it feels like a life or death moment, not least because of the lurking chaos that Magpie’s treatment has on the outside world as she navigates through her past.
It is clear to the reader, albeit not to Magpie, that post-natal depression is what weighs heavily on her. The way Gemma Amor personifies this depression and breathes dreadful life into an abstract figure manifested through her illness was unique and terrifying. It takes a special writer to make a literal stick man figure scary, but Gemma Amor pulls it off! The moment in the story where Silhouette the Stick Man was created is a core reading moment that I think I will never forget. Exhilarating and horrifying.
Even amongst all the very real and very personal insights and discoveries laden throughout the novel, I found it surprisingly and pleasantly funny. The story follows both Magpie in her augmented reality and two watchers, one the boss of the company, who are both there to track Magpie’s progress through her experimental treatment. Things start to go downhill very quickly in the outside world as Magpie’s interior world becomes something more than they could have ever expected, and the sheer incompetence of the two watchers served two useful yet opposing functions. There is certainly comic relief through their interactions but there is also an undercurrent of dread spearheaded through their ineptitude; things are starting to turn bad very quickly and yet by the time they realise something is dreadfully wrong, it will be too late.
‘Words are funny aren’t they? They’re like little pieces of yourself given away’
No quotation summarises ‘Full Immersion’ more wholly than this one. This book was a privilege to read. ‘Full Immersion’ feels like the baring of a soul, as if the author truly cut out a part of herself and moulded it into the pages with care and craft. It is unique. The power, not just to do that, but also to manipulate the story into something that is not just deeply personal, but also palatable (if not relatable?) to the general reader… now that is something special.