This is a weird one: The Voynich Enslavement by Hank Snow is a vaguely Voynich Manuscript-themed experimental novel, in an alternative society built around whipping, slaves, S&M and all that jazz. I’m hardly giving away my personal orientation to say that, ummm, this isn’t really my bag: but there you go, it is what it is.

The story stops after seven chapters (which was when Hank Snow died), though most readers will likely give up after a page or two: despite the full-on mix of bravado, bravura and braggadoccio, the majority of the pleasure was probably more for the writer than for the reader.

So far, so nothing: but what struck me is how this casts a raking light across the age-old advice to “write about what you know”. Given that hardly anybody in the big scheme of things actually knows anything about the VMs, under what circumstances could an author ever sensibly weave the VMs into their novel? “Write about what you don’t know” doesn’t seem so much postmodern as deliberately obtuse, if not actually foolish. As I have said many times, trawling through the sustained paralysis of the Voynich Manuscript Wikipedia page yields nothing of great substance: yet this is surely what most novelists seem to rely on when constructing their great works.

My own advice to the legion (well, certainly cohorts) of would-be Voynich novelists is that, whatever your postmodern / ironic / amused take on this  “unreadable book”, the VMs is actually a very poor hook to hang a fine coat upon, let alone to catch a fine fish with. Find yourself a big theme (or two) for the actual story, and work hard to keep a very light touch on both the history and the mystery – the point at which these stop being secondary to the plot is the point at which you will lose your readers.

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