The Dream Archipelago Week 8: The Cremation part 1

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SUMMARY

  • It is Graian Sheeld's first time attending a private cremation, and now happens to be attending one on the island of Trellin.
  • Graian is a visitor from Glaund, attending Corrin Mercier's funeral seemingly as a stand-in for his uncle, who was unable to attend.
  • We don't learn much about Graian, but like so many Priest characters, he finds himself in a situation he's not altogether comfortable with. Even when not attending strange funeral rituals on Trellin, he is for some reason hounded by lawyers.
  • While at the funeral, a woman attracts his attention - or rather, he spots her attention being attracted to him. Her name is Alanya Mercier, and we later learn she is a cousin of the deceased, though she is described at one point as 'one Mercier among many'.
  • Graian spends some uncomfortable time at the party and keeps thinking he hears his name uttered in conversation - patois conversation that he cannot understand. He assumes there must be a patois phrase that sounds like Graian Sheeld.
  • Just as Graian is about to leave, he is approached by Alanya Mercier who invites him to go for a walk to a nearby cliffside house. Graian is curious, and seems to assume something of a sexual encounter may be in the offing, though he remains on his guard.
  • As the two talk on the path, we learn that Corrin Mercier was killed by a thryme, which seems to have snuck into the house and hidden behind a cushion on the couch. Graian Sheeld is creeped out by the event, and by thrymes in general.
  • The arrive at the guest house, and Sheeld stares off over the ocean at other islands. He gets lost in his own thoughts.
  • These thoughts lead us into a discussion of geography, and we learn Trellin is in the Greater Aubracs, a tropical chain.
  • Also, the lack of up-to-date maps is here blamed on the war, rather than technical issues.
  • Sheeld also reminisces inwardly about an old flame, Barbellia (strange name?) and some affairs he has had, of which he feels ashamed.
  • Alanya brings him out of it and they engage in some verbal fencing. She tries to seduce him on the porch, and even goes so far as to suggest this is another part of the local funerary custom he doesn't know about. Sheeld resists temptation, though, reflecting on his past indiscretions and the pain they brought him.
  • Abruptly, he decides to leave and head back to the main house. She warns him he will get lost, and within minutes this comes true.

DISCUSSION

  • Here's another story featuring a visitor to the islands.
  • Did anyone wonder at Graian's gender?
  • Priest seems to write an awful lot about the awkwardness of intimate relationships.
  • Is Alanya's interest in Graian purely sexual?

Comments

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    edited June 2021

    I read The Dream Archipelago many years ago. I can remember enjoying it, but not much else. I think this is the one story that I remember from that read. I won't spoil the punchline.

    An other well-drawn, awkward situation. Thinking about A Memory Called Empire highlights something about the descriptions. We get a fair bit of geography (which makes sense, as this was originally a separate short story) but less about Graian's sensations of what it feels to be in the hot, humid environment of Trellin.

    We don't get any interaction with anyone apart from Alanya. Not only is Graian a visitor to the island, but he's fundamentally alone and unaffected by all the goings on.

    There are a lot of funerals, and dying generally, in Priest's work. Have we seen examples of people travelling to attend a wedding, or a birth celebration?

    Alanya pretty clearly has an ulterior motive for approaching Graian, but we have no idea what it is.

    Thrymes in this story aren't the instantly-lethal-in-many-ways creatures we encountered in The Islanders. I think this, more reasonable, description came first. I wonder why Priest made the change?

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    So far this is feeling a bit ordinary, and anticlimactic compared to the last one. I guess I feel that CP has used the "awkward person goes somewhere and finds someone eager to have sex" quite a lot of times already. No doubt this one - like the others - has a unique twist towards the end, and at this stage I'm guessing it has to do with thrymes, but I don't feel caught up in it like I did with the Miraculous Cairn.

    @Apocryphal caught most of my prospective comments, especially the change in rationale for the absence of maps (similarly, there's mo mention of aerial or temporal vortices).

    I think this is the first time we have had language difference playing a major plot role - here, the use of patois to exclude Graian, whether deliberately or accidentally. This of itself should have made it more interesting for me, but unless the speculations about "Graian" having a hidden meaning in patois are going to come to the fore, the only narrative purpose seems to be to further isolate the protagonist.

    CP is putting us in the same position as Graian, in that we also have no idea if the actions and attitudes displayed are in fact normal for that island culture, or just as weird as they seem. I feel this is a common ploy of CP, to try to instil in the reader the same feelings as the protagonist.

    I looked back at Islanders and found that the Trellin vegetation is almost entirely man-made, in the sense that the natural plant cover has been largely removed and replaced by deliberate selection. Hence the forests that Graian and Alanya are going through, whilst seeming to be native, are in fact of comparatively recent "manufacture". But then, there's a whole lot of stuff in that section of Islanders which finds no particular resonance here, such as stringent regulations on visitors, a moratorium on use of words describing insects, and so on. Basically, a systematic effort to annihilate any discussion of thrymes, however tangential. So we could yet again be back in @clash_bowley 's universe where this Trellin is not actually the same island as the Trellin of Islanders but instead a near-parallel copy.

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    I remember from a previous read finding one of the stories particularly creepy, and I think it might be this one. Since I can’t remember how it ends, I’ll just have to wait and see.

    > @NeilNjae said: ‘Not only is Graian a visitor to the island, but he's fundamentally alone and unaffected by all the goings on.’

    Does this give context to “Every man is an island”? Lost or loner characters seems to be a recurring theme in his work.
  • 1

    If sex were as awkward, ugly, and unsatisfying as CP always portrays, no one would do it...

    So far this story seems odd and disjointed - probably working up to a hideous climax! (See what I did there?) But it also is not the same island as in The Islanders, and not the same thryme.

  • 1

    @clash_bowley said:
    If sex were as awkward, ugly, and unsatisfying as CP always portrays, no one would do it...

    It's interesting how Priest has taken what's a fairly standard male fantasy, the sexually assertive woman who is direct about wanting sex, and turns it into something repellent.

  • 1

    @NeilNjae said:

    @clash_bowley said:
    If sex were as awkward, ugly, and unsatisfying as CP always portrays, no one would do it...

    It's interesting how Priest has taken what's a fairly standard male fantasy, the sexually assertive woman who is direct about wanting sex, and turns it into something repellent.

    Exactly!

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