A novel as sheerly entertaining as it is profound is a rare treat, and Sean Dixon’s newest work is exactly that. The Abduction of Seven Forgers is the latest fiction for adults by the Toronto-based author (The Girls Who Saw Everything) and Governor General’s Award–nominated playwright, and he balances a compelling, bizarrely hilarious yarn with a meditation on the meaning(s) of art and life.
The story is told primarily through the draft manuscript of a memoir by drab, demure, Canadian artist Olive – one of the titular forgers – complete with occasional editorial corrections, notes, and redactions. Olive’s story begins on the day she and five other creatives are lured to the London house of illustrator Armando Matamoros by super-rich art collector Jackie Lin. When they arrive, Lin accuses each of them, Armando included, of having made counterfeit pieces that he was duped into purchasing as “originals” for his collection. Rather than suffer the embarrassment of revealing his own naïveté by reporting the fraud to the relevant authorities, instead he plans to hold them hostage in Armando’s own house until they each fill a room with new pieces of authentic art. As this scheme is revealed and the forgers are assigned to their respective studio-cells, armed guards arrive, scaffolding is rapidly erected around the mansion, and all phone signals are blocked. If they want out, they’ll need to create.
As the captives acclimate to the strange blend of constant surveillance and surprisingly good catered meals, they must figure out who to trust, and possibly, how to escape. Immediately, Olive meets miniaturist Amir and his almost-sister and devout calligrapher Sanam, who haven’t spoken to each other in years. We successively encounter unwilling host Armando’s one-time fiancée, site-specific installation artist Ángela Efrena Quintero, Jan Komárek, who seems to be more of a magician than an artist, and standoffish Hannie Van der Roos, who is suspiciously chummy with Lin’s accomplice, the art dealer Ella Unton Bride, and the only one who insists she isn’t a forger at all. The identities and backstories of Dixon’s cast form a fascinating network of secrets and intrigue, and the novel begins to unfold with the rhythm and tone of an absurdist country house mystery, with victims the likes of Goya and da Vinci.
The novel delivers a twisty, suspenseful narrative, as the characters confront an ever-growing list of strange events. Though Dixon’s style remains light and playful throughout, the book pivots at a certain point from wacky meta-romp toward a cosmological exploration of the intersections between the self, art, and the infinite. This is the most impressive aspect of The Abduction of Seven Forgers: Dixon takes this premise, adds on layers of magic realism and metaphysics to make the story more baroque, more absurd, and yet manages to simultaneously conjure more gravitas.
The emotional stakes of the narrative, too, are slow to reveal themselves, though they are both poignant and integral. As Olive starts to see and hear things she can’t explain – things that cause her to open up to those around her – we also learn more about Jackie Lin’s true motivations. Without ever dissipating the layers of suspense, farce, or cosmology, Dixon draws clear lines between the experiences of art and love, always questioning what differentiates the forgery from the real.
The Abduction of Seven Forgers blends genres, moods, and modes in a way that will appeal to readers who like breezy reads, or big questions, or both. Dixon plays with the tensions between the earnest and the ironic, the rarified and the vulgar, the reverent and the irreverent – and of course, the real and the fake – masterfully. Surprising, fun, and unexpectedly serious, The Abduction of Seven Forgers is a genuinely excellent read.