The Islanders Week 4: All Free to Fragrant Spring

1

EMMERET (ALL FREE)

  • Emmeret is home of the Seigniory of the same name. Many of the historical Seigniors were known for their eccentricities, including children banners, naturists, debauchers, clergy, and landscapers.
  • The 15th Seignior Emmeret was a drafter of the Covenant of Neutrality. The current Seignior is the 33rd - so 18 generations have passed.
  • The 26th Seignior Emmeret hosted an artist's colony.
  • Mesterlinian poet KAL KAPES attended the colony.
  • Painter DRYD BATHURST also attended, and painted The Wool-Comber's Return. This apparently depicted a minute but salacious image of the Seignoress and 15-y-o Seignorina. For this Bathurst was rewarded with a dead thryme in his bed, and was never seen on the island again.
  • Bathurst donated his self portrait, The Shroud, to the family for private display, but after the incident above it was peremptorily returned.

FELLENSTEL (SPOILED SAND)

  • A large island divided by a mountain range and subject to The Herbean Black Squall.
  • Strict erotomane laws
  • Search for the killers of COMMIS began here, despite it being far from the scene. 2 men and 2 women were questioned but eventually released.
  • The fact that they wrote negative reviews of Commis and other artists made them look suspect in the eyes of the public.

FERREDY ATOLL (HANGING HEAD)

  • This entry consists of a number of letters from one aspiring author named MOYLITA KAINE to the established author, CHASTER KAMMESTON.
  • [Kammeston wrote this book's introductory, and a biography of artist Dryd Bathurst. Several of his works of fiction are named here]
  • The replies from Kammeston to Kaine were apparently burned at his request.
  • Kammeston comes off looking pretty fickle.
  • Kaine has written a novel called The Affirmation - based on the character of social theorist, E.E. CAURER.
  • [Christopher Priest's first novel in this setting is also called The Affirmation, but isn't the same story as Kaine's novel.]

FOORT (BE WELCOME)

  • The author of this entry of the guide refers to this as a fake place, and believes 'Island of Condominium' would be a better name.
  • It is mainly occupied be well-to-do, over-indulged and well-served by drink ex-pats - any mainly seniors, by the sound of it.
  • A landscape artist may have made a glowing dune on one end of the island.
  • Erotomanes are not tolerated. Havenic regulations don't exist, but shelterate laws do, and anti-importunate rules are strict.

GANNTEN ASEMENT (FRAGRANT SPRING)

  • This small island is most famous for hosting an exclusive exhibition of the works of DRYD BATHURST.
  • This event was the only time all five of Bathurst's large canvasses of the Havoc Sequence were shown at the same time. Several other (now famous) smaller pieces were shown.
  • We learn that Bathurst was a lothario - something we already suspected. He was described as an exhibitionist, a dauber, a plagiarist, a populist, a coxcomb, an obscuritanist, and an opportunist as well.
  • Bathurst was media shy, and there's only one photo of him. His one self-portrait, The Shroud, is based on this photo.
  • Another famous small portrait - E.M. The Singer of Airs - is an alluring and moving portrait of wind researcher, ESPHOVEN MUY (first introduce to us in the entry for the island of Aay).
  • We know about the event because local reporter, DANT WILLER, attended discretely and wrote about it. She also took clandestine photographs.
  • Willer's gender is not revealed in this entry, but she (or he) was previously introduced to us as E.E. CAURER's double in the Derril entries.

QUESTIONS & DISCUSSION

  • Connections are being drawn between various characters - Esphoven Muy was painted by Dryd Bathurst. This was reported on by Dant Willer, who later became E.E. Caurer's double. Caurer frequently referenced the books of Chaster Kammeston, who exchanged letters with a Moylita Kaine, who featured Caurer in her novel. Caurer also investigated the Commis murder and its trial.
  • Apart from these 'seven degrees of separation' type connections, can we draw any other conclusions about this group of characters yet?
  • What do you make of the apparent exchange between Kammeston and Kaine?
  • Does Foort remind you of any place you've been? In this entry, is Priest telling us about the Dream Archipelago or our world?
«1

Comments

  • 1

    We're finally beginning to see a story emerge! We now have a small group of characters with lots of connections between them. For a gazetteer, this book has a lot of information about these people. This setup reminds me of an old (1990s?) British TV thriller, where a couple of journalists are investigating odd clips in old government public information films. As they dig, they uncover some 1950s military medical atrocity; someone cut the films of it into the public information films as a way of smuggling out the evidence.

    Foort reminded me somewhat of Dubai and similar places: rich and pampered people supported by, and isolated from, a large group of servants. I think we're meant to draw conclusions from the assertions of purely wholesome living, similar to how we're supposed to draw conclusions from the assertions of safety on Jaem Aubrac. Both of those places are, I think, meant to be reflections on our world.

    The name "Foort": similar to "Fort"? The place is full of ex-pats from the warring northern countries. And the island is like Hotel California: these people can arrive but never leave.

    I did make a note on the description of Bathurst reputation. "Much else was said — privately, but in a more energetically vindictive and heartfelt way — by a string of husbands, fathers, fiancés and brothers, on a large number of islands throughout the Archipelago." A rather heteronormative and patriarchal way of describing the reaction to Bathurst's exploits. Were none of his lovers independent people? Did none of them have non-male partners? Was none of his lovers upset after the trysts?

  • 0

    @Apocryphal said:

    Your headings don't quote properly so we have to edit them. Maybe use bold to make it easier?

    EMMERET (ALL FREE)

    I'm finding the plotting to be increasingly hard to follow - no dates etc., and I am not invested in the characters - it's too brief? No history, no local, a real utopia. I find them boring, and I suspect that there is a laziness about writing a book. However, if it was written to interest movie producers and directors (who always engage in re-writes), it might be a good business card. Or perhaps priest just needed money, or wanted to get through a contract, or whatever.

    FELLENSTEL (SPOILED SAND)

    I had a rather long moment where I really felt like I was reading a description of SIM CITY 2000 and the SIMS at the beginning of this entry.

    • The fact that they wrote negative reviews of Commis and other artists made them look suspect in the eyes of the public.

    Projection much? Actually laughed at this part. We're reading notebooks. Clearly needs an editor.

    FERREDY ATOLL (HANGING HEAD)

    Again, I don't care. It's becoming a real slog - see below.

    FOORT (BE WELCOME)

    Again I see unreflective colonialism. And, as in FERREDY ATOLL, passing references to indigenous (local) people, who are not readers of books like this.

    GANNTEN ASEMENT (FRAGRANT SPRING)

    I suppose there might be a twist coming where we get some kind of reversal, but it's taking too long for things to come into focus. Unfortunately I am neither retired nor without purpose, so I don't have time to be entertained by this.

    QUESTIONS & DISCUSSION

    • Apart from these 'seven degrees of separation' type connections, can we draw any other conclusions about this group of characters yet?

    We're supposed to care?

    • What do you make of the apparent exchange between Kammeston and Kaine?

    Filler. If you're going to write a detective where the author keeps information back, you need to be snappy. Snappy this is not.

    • Does Foort remind you of any place you've been? In this entry, is Priest telling us about the Dream Archipelago or our world?

    Well, I'd like to think that fiction is always telling us something about our world, but I am increasingly surrounded by people who have seemingly become unhinged from shared actuality, and cause harm. I think that the consuming of utopias by those lacking the intelligence to produce benefit for both themselves and others might be among the contributing factors.

    We're a hundred pages in (a third of the book), and I have yet to identify a character that has much relation to any actual world I know, although I recognise the cliches of many of them, and think they are contemptible. Nihilists who hurt people because broken are very popular, like slasher films. So far this book strikes me as a crappy slasher film.

    As a novel, so far the privacy is overwhelming any intimacy, and I am not finding Priest an interesting enough person to spend private time with. Perhaps the problem is that I simply don't want to be the reader Priest wants to create. So far all I see is the usual great-person theory of history, that tries to make itself interesting by being obscure. Adolescent in other words.

    My attitude might be simple pig-headedness I suppose, but it might also be good taste, and self-preservation. Why should I remember this stuff? There's so many other things that will prove better for me to consume.

    I will suggest to the club that we read Consumed by Cronenberg.

    I do feel there is something in here about nostalgia for Empire, when people like these mattered. Priest does live in the UK, whose governing elite is obviously unhinged, so perhaps there is something there, but I don't live there. This kind of stuff reminds me of so-called true crime podcasts and conspiracy theories used to politically motivate people through identity. They go on for hours, but don't reach the level of journalism, and anyway there is nothing to be done. Crime and Punishment they are not. Since I don't want to be a criminal or a policeman, nor experience the thrill of crime, I find them uninteresting.

  • 0

    I found the letter sequence interesting, though perhaps rather self-indulgent on Christopher Priest's part seeing that it was about an author? Ditto the whole "they must be suspicious because they wrote negative reviews" theme - other than tongue-in-cheek is there really any link between low reviews and criminality? Maybe there is in the archipelago, being so focused on artists of various kinds?

    I found Foort less than credible, or at least the account of it, mainly because it seemed to me patently self-contradictory. We learn at the outset that it is independent economically, with no exports and few imports. Also that few people visit it, and that ferries are irregular. Just a few paragraphs later we read of "people who have flocked to it for work" followed by a list of said workers, plus the apparently innumerable wealthy residents. There's heavy traffic and a network of roads with continuous traffic, together with an enormous retail sector. Can anybody see how this collection of facts can possibly hang together?

    Also interesting in these chapters was the casual assumption of a technology base rather like our own - there's an internet, cameras and cellphones, and so on. Yet apparently the world defies mapping... one has to wonder how an internet is interconnected?

    And back to my question of a few weeks ago - other than nameless trogs who do manual work (such as the list of workers on Foort), everyone of importance seems to be an artist? Are there no other professions worthy of note in this world?

  • 0

    @NeilNjae said:
    We're finally beginning to see a story emerge! We now have a small group of characters with lots of connections between them. For a gazetteer, this book has a lot of information about these people. This setup reminds me of an old (1990s?) British TV thriller, where a couple of journalists are investigating odd clips in old government public information films. As they dig, they uncover some 1950s military medical atrocity; someone cut the films of it into the public information films as a way of smuggling out the evidence.

    You are a good person to be so patient.

    The name "Foort": similar to "Fort"? The place is full of ex-pats from the warring northern countries. And the island is like Hotel California: these people can arrive but never leave.

    Seems to me the Islanders are exactly these people, and descendent of such people. Part of me wonders if my negative reaction is because the American (and Australian) experience of these people is quite different from the European experience of them, at least until the 20th century.

    I did make a note on the description of Bathurst reputation. "Much else was said — privately, but in a more energetically vindictive and heartfelt way — by a string of husbands, fathers, fiancés and brothers, on a large number of islands throughout the Archipelago." A rather heteronormative and patriarchal way of describing the reaction to Bathurst's exploits. Were none of his lovers independent people? Did none of them have non-male partners? Was none of his lovers upset after the trysts?

    For great people, there are no actual others, only mirrors of greatness.

  • 0

    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    I do feel there is something in here about nostalgia for Empire, when people like these mattered. Priest does live in the UK, whose governing elite is obviously unhinged, so perhaps there is something there, but I don't live there. This kind of stuff reminds me of so-called true crime podcasts and conspiracy theories used to politically motivate people through identity. They go on for hours, but don't reach the level of journalism, and anyway there is nothing to be done. Crime and Punishment they are not. Since I don't want to be a criminal or a policeman, nor experience the thrill of crime, I find them uninteresting.

    As a UK reader I don't find much to identify with, and had assumed that Priest was trying to write something that would appeal to Americans! We do have some archipelagos at various places off the mainland coast, but they bear essentially no resemblance to this one. I think @Apocryphal raised a question long ago - well, a few weeks ago, at least - as to what if anything the Archipelago is supposed to remind you of - the Caribbean? the San Juans? Micronesia? Relationships between individuals in a very loose analogy? Or none of the above?

  • 1

    @RichardAbbott said:
    As a UK reader I don't find much to identify with, and had assumed that Priest was trying to write something that would appeal to Americans! We do have some archipelagos at various places off the mainland coast, but they bear essentially no resemblance to this one.

    Maybe ex-pats is his target.

    I think @Apocryphal raised a question long ago - well, a few weeks ago, at least - as to what if anything the Archipelago is supposed to remind you of - the Caribbean? the San Juans? Micronesia? Relationships between individuals in a very loose analogy? Or none of the above?

    I have yet to move past John Donne's No man is an island, but trapped in a penisolate war?

  • 1

    @NeilNjae said:

    Foort reminded me somewhat of Dubai and similar places: rich and pampered people supported by, and isolated from, a large group of servants. I think we're meant to draw conclusions from the assertions of purely wholesome living, similar to how we're supposed to draw conclusions from the assertions of safety on Jaem Aubrac. Both of those places are, I think, meant to be reflections on our world.

    The name "Foort": similar to "Fort"? The place is full of ex-pats from the warring northern countries. And the island is like Hotel California: these people can arrive but never leave.

    I've never been to Dubai or Las Vegas (and never will), but Foort reminds me of these types of places - islands in the desert, enclaves of privilege. Self contained, in a way, or seemingly so - but not really because they rely on so much else. There are retirement communities in Florida and even here in Ontario (Collingwood) that are similar - these perfect seeming little places divorced from the world. In the Caribbean, there are entertainment enclaves like Fantasy Island. The Island of St. Martin is another type. People flock to St. Martin, which has a nice airport, but its endemic culture has been erased. There are probably more tourists than locals. The tourists are largely confined to walled and gated resorts, some of which have armed guards at the entrances. The people servicing these places aren't locals - they are workers from places like Antigua, living in small houses or apartment buildings in the dusty interior, and probably unable to afford real-estate. The harbours are filled with huge yachts owned by wealthy Russians.

    And yet tourists arrive and marvel and believe they are in 'paradise'.

    Apparently Foort is a Norman word, and does mean 'fort'.

    I did make a note on the description of Bathurst reputation. "Much else was said — privately, but in a more energetically vindictive and heartfelt way — by a string of husbands, fathers, fiancés and brothers, on a large number of islands throughout the Archipelago." A rather heteronormative and patriarchal way of describing the reaction to Bathurst's exploits. Were none of his lovers independent people? Did none of them have non-male partners? Was none of his lovers upset after the trysts?

    Good questions? Who writes history? Who writes the guidebooks? Who tells you what's normal and what isn't? Obviously the Me Too movement hasn't yet to made it to the Archipelago.

  • 1

    @BarnerCobblewood said:

    As a novel, so far the privacy is overwhelming any intimacy, and I am not finding Priest an interesting enough person to spend private time with. Perhaps the problem is that I simply don't want to be the reader Priest wants to create. So far all I see is the usual great-person theory of history, that tries to make itself interesting by being obscure. Adolescent in other words.

    This is a good question. What's the point of this book? It's not to tell a gripping story. It's not a puzzle for us to solve. It's not an insight into the human condition (none of the characters has any depth). Is it meant to be an allegory of our world? If so, what point is it trying to make? Or is this about us basking in the reflected glory of Priest's masterful worldbuilding? (Ahem.)

    At this point in the book, it's far from clear what I should be getting from it.

    Is there a colonialist or imperialist element to it? I don't think so. There's not much pride in Islander culture, there's not much activity to "improve" peoples or lands. The few characters we have seem to drift along, disconnected from most things. Not so much "historical great people" as "contemporary 1%ers," I think.

    On the other hand, the writing is decent enough and the chapters are short enough for consuming before going to sleep.

  • 1

    @Apocryphal said:

    Good questions? Who writes history? Who writes the guidebooks? Who tells you what's normal and what isn't? Obviously the Me Too movement hasn't yet to made it to the Archipelago.

    I think Me Too hasn't (or hadn't) reached Christopher Priest.

  • 1
    edited February 23

    @RichardAbbott said:
    I found the letter sequence interesting, though perhaps rather self-indulgent on Christopher Priest's part seeing that it was about an author? Ditto the whole "they must be suspicious because they wrote negative reviews" theme - other than tongue-in-cheek is there really any link between low reviews and criminality? Maybe there is in the archipelago, being so focused on artists of various kinds?

    Is it self indulgent, or self effacing? Kammeston doesn't come off well here, even though we never read a word from him. And who is Priest in this exchange - if anyone?. Both participants are writers.

    My take on the poor reviews is episode probably that it's quite easy to assign rancour on priest's part - afterall, someone might read a hundred pages of a work of fiction and declare the author to be a greedy, lazy, adolescent - who wouldn't feel wounded? But overall, I think the 'poor reviews = criminals' is intended to be ridiculous, and invite us to question how we decide and assign guilt. Is 'he wrote poor reviews, therefore a criminal' more ridiculous than 'he speaks with an accent' or 'he's from the projects'?

    I found Foort less than credible, or at least the account of it, mainly because it seemed to me patently self-contradictory. We learn at the outset that it is independent economically, with no exports and few imports. Also that few people visit it, and that ferries are irregular. Just a few paragraphs later we read of "people who have flocked to it for work" followed by a list of said workers, plus the apparently innumerable wealthy residents. There's heavy traffic and a network of roads with continuous traffic, together with an enormous retail sector. Can anybody see how this collection of facts can possibly hang together?

    Yes! See my response to Neil above. Of course these places have exports and imports, but these are mainly the invisible people who serve the communities.

    And back to my question of a few weeks ago - other than nameless trogs who do manual work (such as the list of workers on Foort), everyone of importance seems to be an artist? Are there no other professions worthy of note in this world?

    Well, there was the Mime, of course. Mimes are hardly artists.

    The great person theory is certainly at work, but Priest is hardly painting people like Kammeston, Bathurst, or even the mime as 'great people' now, is he? Also, in what world are the artists the 'great people'? Certainly not ours - we freely apply the adjective 'starving' to artists. This world is replete with warfare, but 'war' and it's concerns are considered to be 'outside' things. In a land that eschews war and politics, who are the great people? Priests answers here seem to be 'artists'. As an author, that probably is self-indulgent, but so what.

  • 1

    On the matter of Erotomanes, consider the following:

    If you look up 'hypersexuality' on wikipedia, it will tell you that the term is cognate with 'nymphomia' and 'erotomania', among other things. In this sense, the word 'Erotomane' certainly seems to describe Bathurst.

    But, if you look up Erotomania in Wikipedia, it tells you this it's actually a subtype of delusional disorder, an 'uncommon paranoid condition characterized by an individual's delusions of another person being infatuated with them.' It goes further to explain that "the erotomanic individual often perceives that they are being sent messages from the secret admirer..."

    So, this raises a question as to whether Erotomane Laws are aimed at people like Bathurst, as described in GANNTEN ASEMENT, or people like Kammeston, as described in FERREDY ATOLL. Or both.

  • 1

    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    Well, I'd like to think that fiction is always telling us something about our world, but I am increasingly surrounded by people who have seemingly become unhinged from shared actuality, and cause harm. I think that the consuming of utopias by those lacking the intelligence to produce benefit for both themselves and others might be among the contributing factors.

    I apologize for any harm I may have caused by proposing this book. Since Utopia was really a social satire - the name meaning both 'no place' and 'every place' at the same time - I mistakenly believed that this book (describing an every-place and a no-place) might have something to offer on the social commentary front, as well as being fodder for RPGing. Perhaps my problem is that I never obtained a PhD, but find myself surrounded by those who have. My efforts to keep up are obviously just embarrassing me. I will stick to pulp adventure from now on.

  • 1

    @Apocryphal said:
    My take on the poor reviews is episode probably that it's quite easy to assign rancour on priest's part - afterall, someone might read a hundred pages of a book and declare the author to be a greedy, lazy, adolescent - who wouldn't feel wounded? But overall, I think the 'poor reviews = criminals' is intended to be ridiculous, and invite us to question how we decide and assign guilt. Is 'he wrote poor reviews, therefore a criminal' more ridiculous than 'he speaks with an accent' or 'he's from the projects'?

    Well I'm still hoping that he will show us that it isn't adolescent. I'm just saying he could get there faster - we're a third of the way through the book.

    As for the ridiculous guilt: I'd like to think Priest is a good person, but all I know from what you say is your stance. What is the stance of the book?

  • 1

    @Apocryphal said:
    I apologize for any harm I may have caused by proposing this book. Since Utopia was really a social satire - the name meaning both 'no place' and 'every place' at the same time - I mistakenly believed that this book (describing an every-place and a no-place) might have something to offer on the social commentary front, as well as being fodder for RPGing.

    I hoped so too, but I haven't seen it yet. What is there here for RPGing?

    Perhaps my problem is that I never obtained a PhD, but find myself surrounded by those who have. My efforts to keep up are obviously just embarrassing me. I will stick to pulp adventure from now on.

    This seems mean. What set you off?

  • 1

    @Apocryphal said:
    On the matter of Erotomanes, consider the following:
    ...
    So, this raises a question as to whether Erotomane Laws are aimed at people like Bathurst, as described in GANNTEN ASEMENT, or people like Kammeston, as described in FERREDY ATOLL. Or both.

    Should we infer concrete meanings for these dream-like words? I think they're meant to suggest concepts, and Priest seems to have made a choice not to nail down meanings for us. I thought "erotomane" could be homosexuality or pre-marital sex, or something. Similarly the other laws suggest something different between a "haven" and a "shelter", but we're not told what that difference is.

  • 1

    @BarnerCobblewood said:

    @Apocryphal said:
    Perhaps my problem is that I never obtained a PhD, but find myself surrounded by those who have. My efforts to keep up are obviously just embarrassing me. I will stick to pulp adventure from now on.

    This seems mean. What set you off?

    Perhaps people should step away from the keyboard for a bit? And everyone should strive to read and write charitably?

  • 1

    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    Well I'm still hoping that he will show us that it isn't adolescent. I'm just saying he could get there faster - we're a third of the way through the book.

    What makes you think he's showing you anything about his emotional age? Why doe he need to?

    As for the ridiculous guilt: I'd like to think Priest is a good person, but all I know from what you say is your stance. What is the stance of the book?

    Do you like to think that? It's not coming across well.

    I think (considering what you've written about here and in other discussions) is that for you, the author must have a stance, and that stance must lead us to the moral highground. I'm not sure I agree with that position. I think an author can show us a mirror of the status quo and let us be moved to look for high ground or not. I think it's sufficient for an author the let us examine ourselves via his or her text, without leading us anywhere in particular. And I think its sufficient for an author just to tell a rollicking story, without any leading or stances whatsoever - though that obviously doesn't apply here, and it's not generally my preference.

    What is there here for RPGing?

    A fair bit, from my perspective, but it'll have to wait for another thread.

    This seems mean. What set you off?

    Perhaps people should step away from the keyboard for a bit? And everyone should strive to read and write charitably?

    LOL. Do you mean that @BarnerCobblewood didn't mean to suggest that more and more of his friends were dangerous idiots who didn't have the intelligence to see the harm they were causing? (yes, Barner, that's how it came across to me - though your taken-aback reaction tells me you probably didn't mean it that way).
    I apologize for my passive aggressive response, which I intended as a shock, rather than nastiness. It's definitely borne of straw-camel-on-ism (to paraphrase Pratchett).

    @NeilNjae said:
    Should we infer concrete meanings for these dream-like words? I think they're meant to suggest concepts, and Priest seems to have made a choice not to nail down meanings for us. I thought "erotomane" could be homosexuality or pre-marital sex, or something. Similarly the other laws suggest something different between a "haven" and a "shelter", but we're not told what that difference is.

    I'm not sure there's a 'should' here, so much as a 'can'. But I think it's much too coincidental to Kammeston's behavior not to consider he made up his correspondent. It would explain why only her letters remain. Apart from that, yes, I agree we're probably being invited to interpret the word (and other aspects of the book) openly.

    I think the fact that we, as individual readers, can interpret these things differently and draw very different conclusions about the book leads us back to the question of who is more important to a work of fiction: the author or the reader? We're all reading the same text, but are having very different reactions to it (and very different opinions as to the mental and moral health of the author) because of those readings.

    The same was true of our reading of The Broken Earth trilogy. And of Sleep Donation.

  • 0

    Back with erotomanes, it is a term which clearly has some kind of specific meaning in that world - "two men and two women, known erotomanes... (early in the Spoiled Sand chapter). And there are laws about it. But is the term itself a legal one, sort of like a profession which has its own membership conventions and requirements, or a casual but publicly accepted one, sort of like a hobby. I don't think we know enough yet - and we may never do, since IMHO Christopher Priest's intention clearly does not include satisfying his readership about the minutiae of this world... he just wants us to engage with it in a kind of experiential way rather than analytically.

    I keep coming back (in my own thoughts, and possibly in my online ramblings) to the ways in which the world of the Archipelago both is and is not this one. Many of the trappings are the same - human occupants, for one thing, but also the same kinds of power, the same internet, photos, mobile phones and whatever. And it's not so very long since the UK had its own quite punitive laws on sexual conduct and expectation. But does everything map from one to the other in a neat way? I think not, but at this stage I don't exactly know how to carry out the mapping and for what components. Coupled with the fact that many, perhaps most of the narrators are unreliable.

  • 1

    Today I finished Mort by Terry Pratchett, and started listening to another Priest book: The Quiet Woman.
    This book is not set in the Dream Archipelago, but in England, in a slightly different timeline.

    I'd like to share this review of it with you. The review is well written without spoilers, and it touches on a lot of themes that are present here, revealing that they are not unique to this book.

    https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1444732871?book_show_action=true&from_review_page=1

    In particular, it touches on:
    How much a book reveals about its author (I assume the quote is from the main character of the book, but it might be from Priest himself).
    Reliability of narrators.
    Pacing of the story.
    Disguised plot trails.
    Suggestions about the world in which we live.

    Like The Islanders, the Quiet Woman has:
    Familiar but dreamlike setting with subtle differences to our own.
    Author protagonists (in this case, one woman who writes biographies of other women, and another who is a writer of children's books).
    People caught between realities (this is a theme of The Affirmation as well).
    A murder mystery.

    It tells me that many of those things that are worrying you (collectively) - piecemeal plots, too vague a setting, moral ambiguity of the author's statement, unreliable narrators - are likely here to stay. If that turns you all off the effort, it's not too late to jump ship. We even have time to start a new slow read - though which book we could possibly pick that would satisfy everyone is now well beyond me to suggest.

  • 0

    Thanks for this review link @Apocryphal - as you say, it was well written and informative.

    Speaking personally, I am keen to continue with the Christopher Priest collection as slow read. Several reasons, I think: first and foremost, I had been meaning to read some of his work for ages and to do so with the club is a great introduction for me.

    Secondly, I don't feel that I have to unreservedly like a book in order to appreciate reading it, and as we've all commented before, doing so with the club helps bring out facets that I might easily have overlooked. My current feeling is that this book at least, and probably the rest of his works, benefit a lot from the slow read approach - I am totally convinced that left to my own devices I would be skimming over pages far too quickly and missing much of what he has put in there.

    I also have a more geeky interest, going back to comments I made on the introductory section. Priest is, I think, revisiting a style of novel writing which goes back to the very start of the modern novel lineage, specifically presenting a work of fiction under the guise of a factual mode of presentation. Here, the gazetteer approach. One might perhaps make an analogy with Gulliver's Travels, though one of Swift's purposes there was a satirical look at institutions of his time, and I don't get a sense with the Islanders that there is a sustained motive of satire (clearly there are odd flashes here and there, but these don't yet seem to me to be sustained and focused on some particular target).

    Now, not all former stylistic attempts at the novel succeed today, but I am keen to see if this one works right through to the end. One of the classical questions of a novel is "does the ending resolve the dilemma or question raised by the beginning?" and I'm curious to see if Priest has any intention of following that through, or simply subverting the idea for his own purposes.

    In short, to repeat, I am keen to progress.

  • 1

    Who has asked to stop? At present I do not like this book - perhaps I will come to like it later. We'll see. I'll respond to your other comments elsewhere.

    If you think I am being too hard on the book (Priest), I am simply following his lead:
    https://christopher-priest.co.uk/hull-0-scunthorpe-3

    Although Miéville is clearly talented, he does not work hard enough. For a novel about language, Embassytown contains many careless solecisms, which either Mr Miéville or his editor should have dealt with. This isn’t the place to go into a long textual analysis, but (for example) a writer at his level should never use ‘alright’ so often or so unembarrassedly. He also uses far too many neologisms or SF nonce-words, which drive home the fact that he is defined and limited by the expectations of a genre audience. On the first few pages, alone, he uses the words ‘shiftparents’, ‘voidcraft’, ‘yearsends’, ‘trid’, ‘vespcams’, ‘miab’, ‘plastone’, ‘hostnest’, ‘altoysterman’ … Yes, of course, it’s possible to work out what most of these might mean (or to wait until another context makes them clearer), but it is exactly this use of made-up nouns that makes many people find science fiction arcane or excluding. A better writer would find a more effective way of suggesting strangeness or an alien environment than by just ramming words together. Resorting to wordplay is lazy writing.
    I also find Miéville’s lack of characterization a sign of author indifference: Embassytown is full of names, full of people, but mostly they just chat away to each other, interchangeably and indistinguishably. And for a writer who makes so much of ambience, China Miéville’s fiction lacks a sense of place: this is not the same as a lack of description, as there is a lot of that, but a way of using a physical environment as something the characters notice, respond to, feel themselves to be a part of, so that the reader can also sense and respond to it.

    And as he says in his followup:
    https://christopher-priest.co.uk/the-re-match-hull-3-scunthorpe-0

    Books are often personified. People say ‘I love Anne McCaffrey’, or ‘I can’t stand J. G. Ballard’, when what they really mean is that they love McCaffrey’s books or dislike Ballard’s work. We all fall into this. We say ‘there’s a new Aldiss out’, or ‘M. John Harrison has been attacked in a review’. We connect the work with the person of the writer – I assume that people who said my comments were ad hominem were subconsciously making this kind of connection.

  • 1

    @RichardAbbott said:

    Secondly, I don't feel that I have to unreservedly like a book in order to appreciate reading it, and as we've all commented before, doing so with the club helps bring out facets that I might easily have overlooked. My current feeling is that this book at least, and probably the rest of his works, benefit a lot from the slow read approach - I am totally convinced that left to my own devices I would be skimming over pages far too quickly and missing much of what he has put in there.

    I agree with this. The slow read is certainly bringing out more of the book than I'd get on my own. A lot of that, I think, is because of the great notes and pointers from @Apocryphal . I'm confused by the book, but not offended. I'd like to see where this leads.

  • 1

    Thanks, all. I have taken on for myself (rightly or wrongly - probably wrongly) a sense of responsibility to keep all members of the club happy. We've already had a lot of 'I'm wasting my time', 'I don't care', 'windbag', 'lazy', 'adolescent', 'not-woke' from various people. When a lot of people seem to dislike a reading project, I naturally wonder if we should just move on.

    I also don't really want the book club to turn into some kind spleen venting society. Which doesn't mean we shouldn't criticize books, but does mean we should try to do so from an evidence perspective and, in the case of a slow read, probably just move on. Although I was pretty much in agreement with all the criticisms we levelled at The Broken Earth, our discussions eventually devolved into repetition of snarky comments and a certain degree of name-calling. I'd like to avoid that in the future. Expressing criticism is fine, but repeating the same criticisms ad nauseum week after week in ways that revealed our growing annoyance - well, did anyone find that pleasant? And without a balancing point of view (the books were widely acclaimed, afterall, though not by us) it felt oppressive to me, and yes, even lazy on our part not to see our way through it.

    I've always felt it's far too easy to be a critic, and much easier being a critic than an author. Speaking for myself, I don't want to fall into the trap of just doing the easy thing.

  • 1

    @Apocryphal said:
    I also don't really want the book club to turn into some kind spleen venting society.

    >

    I've always felt it's far too easy to be a critic, and much easier being a critic than an author. Speaking for myself, I don't want to fall into the trap of just doing the easy thing.

    Very true. It's easy to be negative. Perhaps we should take care to explicitly note the positive things in what we read.

    As for the "not woke" comment, Priest is far from hostile to issues of race, gender, and sexuality. I think he's mostly silent on the issue, but his mentions of indigenous populations and differing erotomane laws shows that these things are part of his world.

  • 1

    (The Islanders was published in 2011. #MeToo started in 2017. I think we can excuse Priest for not taking an account of a social movement six years before it happened.)

  • 1

    My hope is to keep the criticism, but ditch the belittling. Positive comments are good, too, but only if one really feels the book has earned them.

    The next section has but one chapter: GOORN. It is wall-to-wall short story called The Seacaptain.
    The Seacaptain Theater on Goorn is where COMMIS the mime was performing when he died (or was murdered).
    Will this story shed light on the mystery, or further obfuscate it? I don't recall, myself.

  • 1

    “the details that once alerted the twenty-sixth Seignior Emmeret to his house-guest’s waywardness are no longer unambiguous.”

    I had to think shamefully long about what that last bit meant. LOL

  • 1

    @Apocryphal - it's hard to be the person who picked the book. Bitterly hard sometimes. I can't say I see the point of this one yet, but it is beginning to interest me more and as someone said above, the writing kind of floats along pleasantly enough, and in short enough spurts, to be easy reading. At the end of The Islanders we can talk over continuing, but I wouldn't think of quitting on it.

  • 1

    "Without the internet I don’t know what I would do”

    Why did I think there was no Internet in the archipelago?

  • 1
    edited February 28

    Question about the "Me Too" comments. I saw the passage about upset husbands, fathers, whatever. I didn't see any where women had complained about the attentions of the artist. Maybe I was reading too fast. I'll admit I was scanning a bit. One might presume that this "womanizer" left a wake of unwillingly ravished women. Or, since he is so charismatic, maybe he was lucky enough to enjoy a large number of willing, consenting partners. Am I just too old and insensitive? Did I miss something?

Sign In or Register to comment.