Hate it or like it, that would be the general feel of first-time readers on Afternoon, a hypertext novel written by Michael Joyce. To the first-time reader Michael Joyce's Afternoon would seem like a tangled mass of stories with seemingly no form of organisation. The reader often becomes lost and finds it difficult to follow the links provided. At one point the individual could find himself reading mythology and on the other he can find himself in the middle of a sci-fi story. Afternoon is in fact an amalgamation of different stories ranging from myth to fact, fiction to sci-fi, eroticism to stark reality and depending on how the reader chooses his path, his story will vary from that of others.
'When the story no longer progresses, or when it cycles, or when you tire of the paths, the experience of reading it ends(Afternoon). Afternoon conceptualises Michael Joyce's thoughts that the pleasure of reading ends when a reader is no longer able to pull anything useful out from the book. Hypertext novels reinvent reading in such a way that allows the reader to attain control of the story and to participate in its fate rather than being a passive absorber. Joyce demonstrates that the integration and interlinking of one story to another in the Afternoon enables the reader to enjoy hours of pleasurable reading because each reading is different from that of the last. Rereading the Afternoon is a continuously refreshing process, for the reader is treated with a new story with a different ending everytime. In a sense, there is a transfer of authorship as the reader becomes the author of the story, for it is ultimately the reader who chooses the path and how the story should end. Joyce's Afternoon shows exactly how much a hypertextual empowers the reader by leaving the fate of the story in the reader's hands. Hypertextual novels offer unprecedented freedom in choice that enables the reader to relive his experiences through the story on a refreshing note each time. This ability that hypertext novels are able to provide is in stark contrast to ordinary paperback books that allow only for linear reading (only perhaps with the exception of game books).
Although one cannot help but applaud the innovativeness and creativity of the author and he's ability to bring out certain abilities in the hypertext, one cannot help but feel that reading Afternoon gives one a sense of incompleteness. Try as I might, there were certain instances where it was almost impossible to make connections between the lexias, and it certainly doesn't help that the next leixa can be totally different from the previous one. .
However, what struck me most about Afternoon is that it constantly forces the reader to rethink and look back, trying to find a sense of balance and organisation in the story. Human's minds are trained to find balance and logic in what they do; when encountering something that completely bamboozles them, people try to find a way to make sense of the situation, to find a balance, so to speak. Afternoon is a brilliant hypertextual novel that frequently attempts to put the reader off balance. Galvanised into action by his or her subconscious sense of balance, the reader re-reads the stories to attempt to make a connection between the lexias and make sense of them. As such, Afternoon succeeds where paperback books have failed to draw the reader much closer to the story (or stories for that matter) and get him or her actively involved.
The individual lexias in Afternoon abound with variety that illustrates the immense depth of the writer. I happened to chance upon this particular lexia whose images now constantly replay in my mind:
I want to say I may have seen my son die this morning.
The starkness of these words, played against the white background made the background appear larger, more foreboding, as if it were about to grow in size slowly to swallow the words. The words were so simple, the sentence short, yet so truthful and honest. What struck me most was the honesty behind the words that conveys the emotions of helpleness within the person. To have almost witnessed his son's death, and not being able to do anything about it is truly heart rending.
The next lexia however, I mysteriously find myself in the streets of Bangkok with a prostitute. The prostitute then proceeds to talk about her customers and relates a graphical account of her experiences with them. The stories told by the prostitute and her graphical accounts of painful experiences force the reader to empathise with her. The remarkable part of it is that the character is not some innocent victim of rape or atrocious crime but a willing prostitue who dwells in the faraway streets of Bangkok. The writer is thus able to successfully bring in elements of reality that pulls the reader emotionally closer to the hypertextual novel. The last lexia consists of an image that looks very much like that of a woman naked from waist down although some would choose to liken it to a glass of champagne. However, one cannot help but feel the aptness of the image that falls neatly in line with the sexual themes that have been explored in the novel. A story of tragedy, myth, sci-fi, eroticism or fiction? You decide.