Sunday, 25 September 2011
RIP VI Fragile Things - week 3
I had been going to say that this was a slightly less satisfactory week for me, and that I was going to be reading other people's responses avidly, because I wanted to be persuaded that I was wrong. But, as happened in weeks one and two, the more I thought about the stories, the more I was convinced of their quality and, in the end, there was only one I had real reservations about.
I always feel that I should like this poem more than I do: the subject matter is one that I feel most strongly about, having spent many years studying (in a non-formal way) the Green Man and associated legends. It's probably the aspect of British and European mythology closest to my heart, emerging from my childhood love of the Arthurian cycle and legends of the wildwood. Maybe that's why the poem doesn't work for me, because it's simply not intense enough - I feel that if anyone can express that visceral connection with land and forest, then Gaiman ought to be able to. And he does in American Gods, in prose. But sadly, not here, and although I like the final image which juxtaposes silence and language, my main emotion when I read it is disappointment. I shall be very interested to see what other people make of it.
This could have been one of the incidental stories in American Gods, since it deals, like that novel, with the gods that people brought with them to America. I don't know a great deal about Haitian legends - somehow Vodun didn't get into the Arthur Mee Children's Encyclopaedia stories from other nations pages, and the Larousse World Mythology has an embarrassingly slender section on African legends, with nothing on the Caribbean at all. But it seems to have the right "feel", and it's one you can get your teeth into. The subheadings include quotes from Louis MacNeice and Philip Larkin, too - that's got to be good! As usual with Gaiman's stories, there are question marks - for instance, two men disappear: what happened to them? It's kind of a perfectly-formed mini road narrative, which is very cool indeed. I really like this one.
In the Introduction Gaiman calls this a "Mobius" story, which is a good description. It's pretty bleak, and unsettling both because it's about torture and also about all the bad things we don't like to think about: self-deception, the harm we do to other people, and both deliberate and inadvertent wrongdoing. It's effective and well-crafted, but it's never going to go on my list of favourite stories.
'Keepsakes and Treasures'
At the Edinburgh Book Festival this year Gaiman was asked about his characters - did they ever dictate the action? He answered that many of them seem to have independent existences which he just looks in on from time to time (this might be a function, I suppose, of writing a longterm graphic novel like The Sandman, or it might be why he was disposed to embark on such a project in the first place). This story is one of those occasions, because it introduces two characters who appear later in 'Monarch of the Glen', which is in turn about Shadow from American Gods...I love that he does this, and I am really hoping that he meant it when he said he planned to write more about Shadow. The two characters here, Smith and Mr Alice, are really very nasty indeed, and it's a dark story full of death, described dispassionately by a very cold-blooded killer.
I just want to add, here, that it's going to be a very busy couple of weeks for me, with lots of travelling and meetings, and I shan't have much time for reading and commenting. I'm enjoying our shared reading very much, though, so I will do my best to read everyone else's posts - it just may take me all week to do it! Fortunately, I'm going to be at home both weekends, so I can always catch up then.