Week six of the Fragile Things group read - we're kind of on the downhill straight now. It's unlikely that I'll ever attempt to read it in French, but I like this version of the cover, and I seem to be running out of versions in English - I suppose if I were to try, with a English translation to hand, it might be very good for my French, in fact, and rather more fun that most of the things I have to read in that language, but I'm not sure that the lexicon of un-ease that's Gaiman's métier is the most useful to me in my everyday life. But it might justify a longer lunch-break, perhaps: "Oh, I'm just polishing up my French, won't be long..."?
More germanely, this was a much better week for me, no agonising this time over whether the end justifies the means. I wonder if we'll all be able to exchange comments in a mood of harmony, or if we'll still find things to divide us?
The choice of prose poem here was quite surprising, and Gaiman does remark that elsewhere it was published as prose, but that he prefers it with the line breaks, which poses an interesting question about the effect they have on the reader. I think I am probably disposed to read poetry more carefully, paying greater attention to individual words, although this may be more of a reflection on me, and what I believe to be involved in both the study and writing of poetry. It's certainly true that, in the far-off days when I did such a thing, I would craft a line of a poem more artfully than a line of prose, even though I like to think I paid close attention to the latter, too. And I've often been aware, during our six weeks of reading, of the close attention Gaiman pays to whatever he is writing, which is why he's so good at the kind that appears in the next story.
Before I get to that, though, a couple more thoughts on "My Life": I do like the contrast of detail here, the over-exactitude of the causes of his father's death, compared with Mary-Lou's deliquescence (very satisfying word, that). Gaiman sometimes feels very familiar to me - he's a bit younger, but we grew up reading the same things and apparently squirreling away the same kinds of apparently useless bits of information. The disease encephalitis lethargica, for instance, which Oliver Sachs treated with L-Dopa, so that some people woke up 50 years after having contracted it in an epidemic in the 1920s. I remember the news reports, and I'm sure Gaiman does too. That's what I thought of when I read about Mary-Lou's awakening, even though it's attributed here to ball lightning - and then I find that sleepy sickness, as it was called, features in The Sandman.
"Fifteen Painted Cards from a Vampire Tarot"
In this case, what I remembered was seeing a woman on a chat show - or was it a feature in a "lifestyle" magazine? The latter, I think, but she said she was a vampire...she dressed the part, but I thought she looked a little - well, opulent, for the real thing... The tarot has been endlessly invoked in fantasy writing, but here Gaiman seems to touch an essential truth, and the major arcana of the tarot and the vampire lend their imaginative power to each other, so that the sum becomes much greater than its parts, offering us a poignant history of vampires. They are like us, of course, but sadder, wiser, colder - and amoral.
"Feeders and Eaters"
This reminded me of that thing that people say about relationships, that there's always one who loves, and one who is loved. Not invariably true, but you can certainly observe examples of it in couple you know. It also reminded me of Edward Hopper's wonderful painting The Nighthawks, though I think that's actually a bit glamorous for the kind of greasy spoon caff evoked here. My favourite line is: Nobody gets through life without losing a few things on the way. The narrator has clearly lost several, he's so detached from normal human empathy, although he still retains an abstracted sort of curiosity about people, and he does do rather better with the woman on the train. Oh, don't you just ache to know that story?
One can only pity the poor writer and describer of such a disease, of which he is obviously a sufferer. It sounds as if there is little hope for the patient once the tertiary stage is reached. It's most unfortunate that the cure is so difficult to obtain and prepare when this disease is so highly contagious that the very act of classifying it is apparently sufficient to contract it, and all descriptions are necessarily tainted...another variant on the Mobius story, really, and cleverly done.
Four superb stories, I don't think I had a single quibble. Now to see what everyone else has to say...