Ninebelow
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February 2013
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This Year's Reading

53 The Crimson Petal And The White by Michel Faber

A monster (800+ pages) and hence taken on holiday. Although it flags slightly two thirds of the way through it is otherwise immensely nimble and readable for such a hefty volume. I've often been heard to defame the pre-war novel as false and Faber's chronicle is infinitely more preferable to me to than Hardy or Dickens. I'm not especially familiar with the period but Faber is clearly playing with these novels to some degree and piss and spunk massively improve them.

And it has a happy ending! For the final couple of hundred pages Morrisey was echoing through my mind - "please, please, let me get what I want, Lord knows, it would be the first time - and yes, Sugar did. I might want bodily fluids but I am also a big softy.

#54 The Terror by Dan Simmons

The other side of the coin to Faber. This is another huge cod-Victorian novel but even to a non-expert it rings utterly false. Adam Roberts (an expert) details this in his Strange Horizons review, along with its tedious repetition and (more forgiveable) its breast obsession (although he seems to have liked it).

As in his story ‘On K2 with Kanakaredes’, Simmons takes an inherently dramatic situation (then mountaineering, here the Franklin expedition) and adds very little by introducing a speculative element. Presumably in both cases it was done entirely with an eye toward potential markets. In this case the spec fic aspect is that Inuit mythology is true, although this is only revealed very late on, after the novel has completely reconfigured its shape. Unlike Jeff Vandermeer I am not at all sure that this literalisation avoids treating the main Inuit character as a magical savage.

Comments

I can certainly relate to the experience of approaching the ending of Crimson Petal and wishing desperately for it to have a happy ending, but I'm not entirely certain how much I believe it. Or rather, I wanted so badly to believe that it could be a happy ending that I was willing to ignore its unlikeliness. Interestingly, Faber's follow-up story, "A Might Horde of Women in Very Big Hats, Advancing," (just about the only reason to read the Crimson Petal B-sides and outtakes collection The Apple) solidified my grasp on that ending by undercutting its happiness just a little.

I've got The Apple so I will have to read it.

I've just read 'A Might Horde of Women in Very Big Hats, Advancing'. It wasn't at all what I was expecting. It didn't really undercut the ending of Crimson for me because I already found it undercut, it never seemed like a happily ever after ending, just an ending with the promise of a new life.

Oh, and are we meant to understand that Sugar is Primrose? It seems unlikely but at the same time it would sort of fit.

I'm making my way through the other stories as well. The opener captures one of the things I like about Faber, it is sentimental whilst beign realistic without allowing the realism to crush the sentamentality. It is still a bit of a tricky balancing act though.

It's been years since I read the story so I can't remember the characters' names. My understanding is that the narrator's mother is Sophie, and therefore the woman who raised her is Sugar.

What I liked about it was the fact that it addressed how the ending of Crimson Petal would have had to traumatize Sophie even as it paved the path for a good life for her, and that she'd have such conflicting feelings about the father she left behind.

My understanding is that the narrator's mother is Sophie, and therefore the woman who raised her is Sugar.

Yes. The narrator also refers to his "aunt" Primrose who is at least five years older than Sophie and striking beautiful. On one reading she is simply Sophie's lesbian lover. This is strongly implied by the text and fits within its riffing on the Bloomsbury Set. Another reading, where Primrose is actually Sugar, is also hinted at though and I wondered if anyone else had read this into the story.

I remember the Primrose character, but as I recall there was an older woman who had died before the beginning of the story, and that's who I took to be Sugar.

At any rate, Sugar is surely closer to ten years older than Sophie, if not more.

If I remember correctly Sugar is 12 years older than Sophie (19 to 7). However, I imagine this difference would be become a lot less noticeable as they aged, particularly to a small child. It does refer to Sophie having received an inheritance from Miss Sugar but is otherwise reticent on the issue. No matter.

The Terror bummed me right out. It should have been a-friggin-mazing. Damn shame.