Monday, May 29, 2006

The Fetch of Mardy Watt - Charles Butler

Something is haunting Mardy Watt. It's been in her room, it's fooling her friends, and it's upsetting her home life. And the trouble is, nobody realises what is happening except Mardy herself. Exactly why the Fetch is picking on her, Mardy doesn't know – but she does know that she has to find out, before it takes over and replaces her completely. But whatever spell had been put on her is growing stronger. And suddenly, rather than fear, she feels a rush of burning anger. How dare anyone do this to her ! How dare anyone steal her life !

The Fetch of Mardy Watt is a supernatural thriller; there is a mystery relating to why the Fetch is trying to take over Mardy's life, and just who or what is Rachel Fludd. It's also a race against time - can Mardy's best friend Hal help her to reclaim her life before she is trapped forever in her horrible half-life ? And just who is the mysterious Mayor ?

Charles Butler’s language and phrasing contribute much to the suspense of his novels. In The Fetch of Mardy Watt the telling comment “[Hal] was always precise about time, and kept and spent it carefully” (p. 11) tells us a lot about the logical, rational boy who is Mardy’s best friend. Similarly, the description of the Reverberant Chord which the Mayor of Uraniborg uses to ensnare Mardy, so that she can be replaced by the Fetch is chilling: “[…] over the railings tinkled a thin, beaded string of notes, plucked from an instrument that Mardy could not name. The music crept between the railings and followed her some way down the street.” (p. 7) “Finally – finally – the many stringed instrument (a harp, was it, or a mandolin ?) began drawing its threads of sound together. The tangle arpeggios became more dense and knotted. Harmonies and discords vied dangerously, and at last a vast, enmeshed chord threw a net of closely-woven sound over her head. It billowed out and settled, dissolved at its edges and tightened at its centre, and bound her hand and foot. For a few moments she was no more alive than a wax doll.” (p. 17) As a music lover whose daily life is almost constantly accompanied by music, I personally found this description very unnerving.

Mardy recognises, during the story, that her past mistakes and “pig-headed stupidities” are, to a large extent, responsible for her remaining trapped in Uraniborg whilst the Fetch is living her life. However, she is only responsible in part; her father is also partly responsible. He was an Artemisian, one of those who lives alongside the world inhabited by Mardy and Hal, but in a world of their own, Artemisia. There they have magical powers and are able to resist the Mayor and Uraniborg, but Mardy’s father left Artemisia to marry Mardy’s mother, and his children grow up with the protection of Artemisia, and find themselves susceptible to the Mayor’s power. Mardy’s brother, Alan, has already been replaced by a Fetch, three months before Mardy is captured, and Mardy finds the real Alan in Uraniborg when she is trapped there herself. In all of Butler’s books the past actions of the protagonist come back to haunt him or her.

Calypso Dreaming - Charles Butler

In Charles Butler’s Calypso Dreaming Tansy’s experiments in magic have made her more aware of and sensitive to the supernatural; she sees Calypso in the back of Dominic’s van when her mother does not. Calypso is a selkie, a seal child, and she has the power of making her dreams come true. Tansy sees her astral body in Dominic’s van, rather than the four year old herself, as Calypso is sleeping up at the Manor house, where she and her mother, Dominic’s sister, live. Dominic has powers of his own, however; he is a member of the order of Asklepius and has the gift of healing. But even Dominic’s power is insufficient against Calypso’s, whose dreams have become possessed by a spirit that inhabits the island of Sweetholm. He wakes up and finds himself on the edge of a transformation – there are wisps of feathers growing from each of his knuckles, his fingernails have become claws and his hearing has sharpened. He realises that everyone is in danger and tries to asphyxiate Calypso with a pillow in order to stop her dreams. However, his sister Sophie, catches him in the act and attacks him with a log from the fireplace. She screams “Anathema. Anathema maranatha” at Dominic, cursing him and he flees from Sophie and the Manor, and as he flees he transforms fully into a heron which, as it flies away, is then mobbed and killed by seagulls.

Tansy’s father Geoff is luckier than Dominic. Davy Jones, Sweetholm’s general handyman, is obsessed with St Brigan and he creates a shrine to her and an idol of her in a cave under the Tor on Sweetholm. He intends to sacrifice Geoff Robinson to St Brigan as he has already sacrificed Geoff’s brother John, in whose home Tansy and her parents have been staying on Sweetholm. Geoff manages to escape his intended fate, mostly due to Davy Jones killing himself instead, but he is trapped in the cave under the Tor and that is flooding. To make matters worse, Tansy’s mother believes Davy Jones’ story that Geoff has gone back to the mainland and his mistress, but Tansy does not. She and her friend Harper, a boy about her own age, set off for the Tor to see if they can find her father. Fortunately they discover Geoff, but are nearly killed in the cave when it floods. They are rescued, after a fashion, by Calypso’s seal father, who destroys the idol, releasing the spirit that had been controlling Calypso’s dreams. Tansy and Geoff return to the mainland, leaving Tansy’s mother on Sweetholm. Calypso and Sophie also leave under a cloud of suspicion as Calypso is believed, by the islanders, to be a witch.

The Eyre Affair - Jasper Fforde

What intrigues me about the Nextian world Jasper Fforde has created, is how seriously books are taken in The Eyre Affair. The fact that Thursday is a LiteraTec (a Literary Detective) – someone who deals with crimes against literature – whether that’s the theft of original manuscripts such as Martin Chuzzlewit or Jane Eyre; the sale of “bootleg” versions of the verses of Poe, Keats and Byron; or unauthorised performances of plays. Then there are the Henry Fielding fanatics who swap bubble-gum cards of Fielding’s characters, much as people in our world swap bubble-gum cards of baseball players. There are also the amazing Will-Speak machines (properly known as the Shakespeare Soliloquy Vending Automatons) into which one inserts a coin and then listens to a brief Shakespearean soliloquy (depending on whether the machine offers Hamlet or Richard III, for example). There is an annual John Milton Conference, at which many of the attendees are named John Milton; changing one’s name to that of a favourite author seems fairly common – Thursday encounters a hotel receptionist named Liz Barrett-Browning, for example, and overhears a conversation in which a John Milton is reporting being mugged by a Percy Shelley. All the hotel rooms have an obligatory copy of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare, in addition to various religious works. Just as we have Jehovah’s Witnesses going door-to-door, trying to persuade us to sign up, so the Nextian world has people who go door-to-door, trying to persuade people that William Shakespeare wasn’t the true author of his plays. Then again, Thursday attends a performance of Richard III that is performed by the audience; those who wish to perform arrive at the theatre in costume, and audience participation is expected (half the audience at the performance that Thursday attends, ends up on stage for the Battle of Bosworth).There is the Verse Metre Analyser, a room-sized machine reminiscent of the early computers, which “breaks down any prose or poem into its components – words, punctuation, grammar, and so forth – then compares that literary signature with a specimen of the target writer in its own memory.” (Chapter 12, The Eyre Affair) Apparently it’s 89% accurate and used to find forged copies of literary texts.

On top of this, is the concept that Nextian characters and literary characters can occasionally enter or leave a literary work, and their presence can affect the narrative; thus Thursday changes the plot of Jane Eyre so that it no longer ends as it does in the Nextian universe with Jane going to India as St John Rivers’ assistance, but instead she marries Mr Rochester (something that is contrived by Thursday).

Friday, May 26, 2006

Welcome to the Scholar's Blog Spoiler Zone

I have tried to avoid spoilers in my book reviews at Scholar's Blog wherever possible, but this has led to frustration as there have been occasions when I have wanted to talk in detail about a specific part of a book but have not wanted to spoil the story for those who dislike spoilers. Therefore, since Blogger doesn't allow users to hide things under Cuts, as LiveJournal does, I decided to create the Scholar's Blog Spoiler Zone. Any book which I have reviewws or am going to review that I want to talk about in the kind of detail that makes spoilers inevitable will therefore have a 2-part review. The spoiler-free part will be over on Scholar's Blog, but the part with spoilers in will be linked here.