Sarah Canary Q7 - '“She overpowered me with her inhuman strength. She threatened me with her chopsti

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We don't ever learn much about the titular character. Is she even a character? Does it bother you that we don't learn more? Other characters develop different theories about her through the book. Who do you think she is?

Comments

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    Do you know, I have no theories. She's a madwoman who other characters give significance, and sadly isn't going to receive any help - or even comfort - in the time she's in. Weirdly I didn't wonder about this much while reading the book, though I pondered whether Miss Dixon was right.

    If we take the book being labelled as science fiction seriously (actually, I don't) we can have some more outlandish theories!

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    Does it bother me... yes and no. No in that staying with uncertainty is not a bad thing, as a general principle. Yes in that I think the story suffered from the lack of direction that resulted, given that this is in fact a novel. Beginnning, middle and ending are all important in a novel, and I kind of felt we only had a beginning. The book continued, and it stopped, but I'm not sure that it had a middle or end.

    "Who do you think she is?" - I guess that puts us in the same position the characters who all tried to fit her into their preconceptions! I was describing the book to a friend who commented "was this a story based on real events?". I doubt it, but maybe that's another way to try to pin Sarah Canary down... the novel in front of us is biography rather than invention!
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    I see Sarah Canary as a McGuffin, more than a character. I certainly don't mind that we don't know what she is - in fact, I've read several books where I felt the author offered too much explanation about some aspect of the book that was best left to the imagination.

    I also feel the story had a beginning (Chin meets Sarah in chapter one and decides to go with her, thinking he will benefit from her spirit. In chapter 2 Chin meets the wider world. In chapter 3, he meets his sidekick, B.J.). Through the middle of the book we meet more characters, and our current characters are fleshed out.

    At the end of the book, Chin transforms into a brave person, Adelaide almost transforms into someone who can love, but then reverts back to someone who is married to ideals. Harold (representing the ills of society) is changed after he wears the dress. The last few chapters are full of bits of wisdom that bring everything together (such as Chin's reflection on the REN) and the book concludes with the main thesis that, as with Sarah Canary, we each bring something to the nature of a story and to the world around us. I felt the conclusion was very tidy.

    If anything, I think maybe the book tried to do too much.

    “Ren was the tolerance or benevolence a man felt toward others. There was no good translation. But ren was a product of community, of relationships, manifested only in interaction. A man raised in isolation would show no ren. Caspar Hauser would show no ren. And Miss Dixon was right. Sarah Canary showed no ren. In the confucian system, ren was the most fundamental human quality. The ideogram was the same as the ideogram for man.”

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    @Apocryphal said:
    If anything, I think maybe the book tried to do too much.

    “Ren was the tolerance or benevolence a man felt toward others. There was no good translation. But ren was a product of community, of relationships, manifested only in interaction. A man raised in isolation would show no ren. Caspar Hauser would show no ren. And Miss Dixon was right. Sarah Canary showed no ren. In the confucian system, ren was the most fundamental human quality. The ideogram was the same as the ideogram for man.”

    This reads as though Chin ultimately came to accept the view that Sarah Canary was a wild woman / wolf child, permanently unable to integrate socially with others. I guess at some stage he abandoned the faint hope that she would be his spirit bride. Likewise, Adelaide abandoned the idea that she was an escaped criminal. So other than Harold - and I struggle to work out what he thought, except that in some sense he wanted to be like Sarah - it seems that the original range of options narrowed down to simply this one. Perhaps this is the most easily assimilated by the various characters, and so once the immediate physical presence of Sarah was no longer there to challenge their presuppositions, they dropped back to the familiar categorisation.

    BTW, in case it's not obvious from my long ramblings here and elsewhere, this discussion has made me appreciate the book a lot more. I'm not sure that I like it better, from an emotional/relational point of view, but I am certainly appreciating its complexity a lot more. A great choice of book.

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    I really didn't know what it would be like when I picked it. I knew it was 'inspired' by the Wizard of Oz, than that Sarah could be seen as an alien while wearing the right goggles. I knew it was late 1800s Pacific NW, and expected it to be well written. I thought the Oz and Alien connections alone ought to be enough to carry book club discussion. It's also outside of the usual genre fiction we do, and the one thing members say more than anything is how they like the fact that the club encourages them to go outside of their usual fare, so I took that as a plus as well.

    I didn't expect the world to be such an indictment against the historical behaviour of men, and knew (after I started reading the book) that the treatment of minorities and women in the book would make some club members feel uncomfortable. To what degree that happened I'm not entirely sure. @BarnerCobblewood hasn't responded, but he often expressed that fiction ought to bring out people's better qualities, and there are a lot of bad qualities in this book. And we've heard no end of comments about Severian's bad behaviour on BotNS, so I was expecting this to be a detracting factor for most people. But even Harold, the most obvious bad character, seems capable of redemption, and Chin and B.J. and Adelaide are certainly well (and lovingly, I think) drawn characters, in spite of their flaws - so I hope that makes up for the rest. And honestly, I don't see why Fowler should pull any punches, assuming we can rely on the historicity.

    The events in the book were more or less a surprise. I suspect there's some symbology behind the use of the tiger in the novel, but I'm not sure what it is.

    When I finished the book, I could see it was deep. But even in composing the questions, and then trying afterward to answer them myself and respond to others comments, I kept finding new things. So that was an unexpected treat, I'd say.

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    It's interesting that you think Harold is redeemed. He seems to be to have slipped into a more pleasant form of insanity rather than being redeemed. I also think a plausible theory is that he killed Sarah Canary.

    But I agree there's more to Harold than a simple villain.

    Oh, the discussion is definitely deepening an already deep book for me. And like @RichardAbbott I love the use of quotes as questions.

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