50. Your Servants and Your People 

You may remember that I started this trilogy last year. Your Brother’s Blood is an enigmatic read, economic, beautifully written, and highly engaging. Not to mention that it is unusual. As a zombie-western, it began this trilogy with such a jolt to the senses it was the perfect novel to read during finishing off my Master’s Dissertation. I have secretly been keeping this one for the right day and now almost six months after handing my Dissertation in I was finally ready to return to that world that I now associate with that point in my life.

Your Servants and Your People – David Towsey

Your Servants and your People, is quite an enigmatic read and for a long time I was very curious about the prologue. It is that little itch a novel can give you, “but please… you haven’t explained this yet… give me the big reveal…” Since starting Jordan’s Wheel of Time series I have become a big fan of the prologue that reveals some enigmatic element of the story that is only understood later on. This prologue reveal, strikes you off balance with wonderful tenacity.

Anyway. You may remember from Your Brother’s Blood that the narrative was saturated with religious doctrine and murderous acolytes, conflicting choices, families, and a lot of feelings. As all good sequels should have, there are echoes of Your Brother’s Blood, but this novel moves away from it enough any further beyond I do not think it would be as successful and too close and it would’ve been a very different novel.

In this instalment, our Walkin’ hero Thomas McDermott has a few different choices to make and all of them concern his family.

Seven years on, many things have changed. The Walkin’ are shown to be tolerated a little better but still discriminated against. They find work as labourers which is work that they excel at as they never tire, never need to eat, and never complain when the work would be hard for a living person. But Thomas McDermott is a Walkin’ who still has his very much alive family and wants to be left alone and to be able to ensure their survival and peace. They have been forced to move from place to place by fires and intolerances that seemed to have changed Sarah and their daughter Mary. Sarah is somehow harder, perhaps colder and Mary has grown up into a bitter teenager who dreams of fires, and doesn’t flinch when she is physically assaulted by strange men.

The novel opens with the family traveling with an escort, a group of soldiers heading to the remote outpost Fort Wilson. The unpopulated, harsh country is where the McDermott’s intend to survive far away from the prying eyes of society, hoping to finally be safe. Luckily for the McDermott’s they do not experience the horrors of the Bryn and the other soldiers at Fort Wilson. Bryn takes up the other half of the novel, finding himself avoiding death by chance and then witnessing his confused comrades waking from it. Bryn is a sweet character, though throughout the novel he seems at best disorientated and a little unfortunate. He experiences his comrades struggling with their new found identities, and seems to loose a little of his own along the way.

This novel has much less urgency and much more horror than it’s predecessor, Your Brother’s Blood thrives off of Thomas carrying his young daughter across the unforgiving waste while being pursued by those that would kill them both. But now the McDermott’s stake claim on a piece of land as a family and Thomas begins his unyielding work at building them a home. However, the pace lulls you into a false sense of security, it promises that the threats faced in the first novel are extinguished and gives you hope for the McDermott family. But this is all a rouse and slight of hand on Towsey’s part, letting him successfully drop bombshells on you while you are fumbling in the dark.

This novel is again wonderfully written, characters are strong and rich and there is no doubt about that they show more of their character through actions than the reader being told who they are. The ending of the novel leaves several strands open for the final part of the trilogy which I am eager to follow, although I am riddled with anxiety over what this novel will bring!

Your Servants and Your People plays it’s cards very close to the chest, but when they are laid down to be examined we see that this is a world where the unexpected happens and nobody is safe from it. This is a very good sequel and I again recommend this trilogy for it’s enigmatic narrative and the strength of it’s characters.

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49. Endymion 

Endymion is the third instalment in Hyperion Cantos, the other two I read before this blog was even thought of and it has been quite a while between visits to Simmons’s world. But intrepid sailors of other worlds do not be fooled! This is not a novel like it’s predecessors. But before I start, I must tell you about Hyperion. Hyperion is a novel that I cannot get enough of recommending to people. It is a sci-fi novel of staggering magnitude, I think about it and the tectonic plates of my imagination shift. Dan Simmons builds a world that is rich and believable, a world full of literary allusion, and characters that you become intimately acquainted with on a long pilgrimage. It is a difficult world to break away from during reading, it is anxiety inducing, it is exciting, and it is wonderfully written. Endymion however, is not Hyperion.

Endymion – Dan Simmons

Endymion follows on nearly three hundred years after the events of Hyperion and the Fall of Hyperion, the narrative of our past characters transcribed in Martin Silenus’s epic poem ‘Cantos’, is now black listed by the Church that now holds a tight grip over the universe. There are many waves back to the past and the previous two novels, in fact we journey through the twisted bones of a world so very easily recognised but is so very different. The web has well and truly fallen, the cruciforms (cross shaped parasite that allow the host to resurrect regardless of death or bodily harm) have been tweaked a little so the resurrected does not become simple or sexless and this parasite is the Church’s main bargaining tool to keep control of all of the planets in it’s reach.

Aenea, the daughter of Brawne Lamia and the John Keats Cybrid, has bravely flung herself three hundred years into the future through the Time Tombs on the planet Hyperion, to do … what exactly? What all eleven year olds dream of, to save the world of course! Luckily the eleven year old isn’t on her own as the old decrepit poet Martin Silenus (who has indeed survived the hiccup of three hundred years) flings a young man, Raul Endymion, and a blue Android along with her in the Consul’s old ship. How lucky you might think, but  Martin has had a long time to plan all of this.

Unfortunately for everyone in the novel the Church somehow know that Aenea is about to return to start her quest to become the Messiah and send out a kidnap/capture team lead by Father Captain Federico De Soya. De Soya’s resurrection ship manages to skip a head by killing all of it’s occupants and then reviving them but somehow is still has trouble capturing one little girl. But what they don’t know is Aenea is returning with the Shrike in toe, very much like a pet – which is very out of character for the murderous metal creature.

Like it’s two predecessors Endymion is a novel with a lot of interesting ideas that are well thought out but they feel a little recycled this time around. This novel is very slow for the first two thirds. It falls into the danger zone of the ‘Messiah’ story, Aenea is a remarkable eleven year old who you simply forget is eleven, she is mystic and mythological before she steps out of the Time Tombs. Did I mention that solutions come very easy to these characters on their journey? Loosing any gear seems to be of little consequence, injury never feels life threatening.

Any peril that Raul faces in the narrative is simply made redundant by the fact that it is made clear early on that he is writing the novel as a memoir while he waits for his execution.

But the weakest part of this novel is actually some of the writing. Simmons has a nasty habit in this novel to repeat action because two different groups of characters are reliving the same event. Because of this chapters become predictable and I found myself painfully aware of predicting De Soya’s reactions to the previous chapter lived out by Raul. This feels tedious after a while. It feels like declining execution to brilliant and grand ideas and a long slow drift to an ending that reveals too much too fast.

Sadly this novel felt like a stepping stone. It feels a little like ideas have been recycled and pinned into a sci-fi chase narrative and the travellers on said journey never really seem to be sure why they are doing this. The narrative is far simpler than Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion and perhaps this is why this novel was so unsatisfying for me, as I was expecting more. There’s no polite way to put it, I am a little disappointed.

48. The Outsider 

I have to admit, this post I have been a little resistant to writing. The Outsider, or The Stranger as it’s known by other translations is an unusual read. Meursault, the protagonist of the novel is a product of his modern culture, aimless, half-hearted, half involved with his own life and somehow lacking in real desire and reflectiveness. He is an absurd hero, participating in observing the solitude of his own life with little cynicism or hope. It appears to Meursault that one act is the same as another in the long run, and as indifferent as he himself is, I feel quite indifferent to him as a character.

The Outsider – Albert Camus 

Of course, I feel pity for him, I feel a benign tenderness for poor Meursault. But the general indifference I feel for him also has been bothering me. It is like an itch in my mind that I can’t quite scratch. Perhaps this is the aim of Camus’s writing, he wants to position the reader as mildly tender but mostly indifferent to Meursault. Perhaps I am not supposed to dive into sympathy for a man who rejects religious comfort on facing his own death, or when he is placed in a dislocated state of shock on finding his mother has died or when he makes a half-hearted attempted at a relationship with a pretty girl.

I feel there is something heartless about Meursault, as if the lights are all on, but nobody is really home. I’m not entirely sure if I can call him an anti-hero, I’m not entirely sure if I can reduce him down to a set of traits that define him as a character beyond, ‘aimless’ and perhaps ‘apathetic’. I feel as if he is a bit useless, a bit dislocated, a bit like someone pretending to be a person if that someone had looked at photographs of people but had never really encountered one.

We are welcomed into the novel with a sudden death. Meursault’s mother has passed away and we find him in what would be loosely termed as a dislocated state of shock. After the inconvenience of her funeral, Meursault carries on with his week, describing in detail the habits of his neighbours and the lighthearted encounter with a young woman. Then while on the beach with his new found friend and lady friend, Meursault does a stupid thing.

He is blinded by the sun and foolishly in that moment he shoots a man.

The second half of the novel Meursault is verbally assaulted from all sides and told he lacks empathy and it is implied heavily that he is a sociopath. His actions from the death of his Mother are traced by the prosecution who suggests that the murder he has committed is premeditated and therefore deserves the highest penalty. But for some reason I just perceive Meursault as stupid, as loosing himself to an impulse that lacked all motivation and then accepting the consequences of his actions. His guilt is undeniable, and while it is not an accidental shooting, Meursault is not a rampaging murderer. It is here that Meursault appears at his most passive and submissive. He is quite simply surrounded by things happening to him and not really absorbing anything around him.

It is only when a Priest repeatedly questions him on his immortal soul that he looses his temper and in a fit of rage and passion throws the man out of his cell. Now the end of the novel Meursault is facing his death, staring it eye to eye and square in the face. But his minor reflections on his own emotional state that come in the afterglow of his rage are surprisingly simple – he looks forward to it. Relishes the idea even! Welcomes the idea that his death will be welcomed by spectators filled with hatred. It is in these lines of reflections I have found some influential lines that I have been harbouring:

“I opened myself for the first time to the tender indifference of the world. To feel it so like me, so like a brother in fact, that I understood that I had been happy, and I was still happy.” p. 111

This is an uncomfortable novel. It is a novel of accepting consequence and of accepting the inevitability of death. It has moral questions, it has raised ideas of perception and how our actions can be sign posted into ideas we may not anticipate projecting. It is a remarkably straightforward narrative but it has really gotten under my skin. I imagine I will have to reread this again and puzzle over it some more because I genuinely do not feel like I am finished with this one.

47. The Gap of Time 

Jeanette Winterson is one of those authors I can’t seem to shake off. I’ve read a lot of her work and every novel I encounter is rich and vibrant and wildly different from the last. Her strength is in her uncomplicated yet striking prose and decedent story telling. There are some of her novels that hit the mark for me entirely, others miss it a little but when Winterson does hit the mark she is a formidable force in storytelling. She is always inventive, she grasps existing narratives and twists them into her own design. She has rewritten fairytales, handled queer themes with extraordinary dexterity, and never shies away from the uncomfortable (just a few reasons why I cannot stop reading her work).

The Gap of Time – Jeanette Winterson

This novel, for me, is Winterson at her very best. Her writing is easy and surprising, it’s gripping, economical and in some parts nears the poetic. The narrative itself is a retelling of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, and keeps close pace with the original play while giving it a modern spin that feels contemporary.

Leo (King Leontes within the play) plans to kill his best friend Xeno (Polixenes) because he believes Xeno is sleeping with his wife MiMi (Hermione). MiMi is heavily pregnant and famous within her own right as a successful singer. Leo is a ruthless hedge fund manager who’s accustomed to getting his own way and not being disputed with. He is convinced that MiMi’s second child is not his and is instead Xeno’s. Through no fault of his own Xeno’s intimate friendship with MiMi throws tension over the entire narrative, coupled with ambiguous sexuality that fuels Leo’s rage. Leo attempts to kill Xeno forcing him to flee and then confronts MiMi as she gives birth to their daughter, Perdita, in the midst of some brutal pages. He still refuses to hear reason or sense and instead of accepting the child he bribes his gardener to make his daughter disappear.

But the story doesn’t end there, through a terrible accident Tony is shot by thugs after hiding Perdita in a baby-hatch at the local hospital. Shep and Clo are passing when they see both the concealment and the shooting and Shep takes it upon himself to bring Perdita up himself. Perdita grows into a remarkable young woman, and then is destined to find the truth of her unusual beginnings in the world.

It is rare that I find myself shaken from a novel but the misogynistic rage that faced me from Leo, although fictional, resonated with me in a very powerful way. I have taken a while to consider why this is and I think maybe it lies in how the first half of the novel is intended to make the reader pass judgement on Leo and his actions.

Some of the novel falls out of step with the play but only in a minor way, for example the play has King Leontes degrading and humiliating his wife in a vicious way in front of the Royal Court. Winterson however withholds judgement, expecting that the bedroom she sets Leo to his violence in will provide Courtroom enough for reader to play judge and jury and react much as Shakespeare’s Royal Court: disgusted. Readership is given trust to be silent witness to the entire disintegration of Leo’s obsessive irrationality, which creates an intense read which is never fully convincing as we gain the advantage of also seeing the reality behind Leo’s accusations. We see plutonic intimacy between Xeno and MiMi which Leo demands is sexual infidelity. We see sexual jealousy, we see possessiveness, we see fear, and we see the horror.

This is not to say this novel is like this the entire way through though, as it does ultimately have a happy ending. It is the children of this novel who find the real happy ending, and unlike Othello, Hermione is not murdered and Leo does not die, and after a long winding journey, some sort of forgiveness is found. This is a passionate retelling. Winterson admits that The Winter’s Tale has been a play that she has adored for more than 30 years because:

“It’s a play about a foundling. And I am. It’s a play about forgiveness and a world of possible futures – and how forgiveness and the future are tied together in both directions. Time is reversible.” p.284

This novel has a lot more to unpick than initially meets the eye. The cast of characters are diverse and not all of them are as they appear and there is something very relatable in all of them. I would read this again happily. As I mentioned earlier on, this is Winterson at her very best.