Oct. 24th, 2010

rui: (to tangle with the salt in the air)
There is a thing about me that i sort of assume most people know, but then i think about it and realize well, maybe not. This thing is that i love stories, and not just book stories. Human stories, the sort of retellings of events and revelations of tiny details that let me assemble an idea of who and how someone really is. It's a thing i do, this analysis of people via details of behavior that i see or hear about. I create theories, guessing at parents and childhoods and the state of a stranger's bedroom, the cleanliness of the kitchen or whether they fold their laundry. It's like a game, to try and fill in the holes in unknown lives and then maybe someday find out whether i guessed right or wrong. Perhaps this isn't the nicest game to play, because it's so real and personal, but i've been doing it for so long now that it's second nature.

It's been a lovely weekend for stories, both the true kind and the fictional kind. One i can't share, and won't, save that my most gut reactions have been justified and some things i wondered were both more true and false than i'd imagined. But the one i can share is Habitation of the Blessed, by the rather majestic Cat Valente, known in these parts as [livejournal.com profile] yuki_onna.

Habitation is the first in a trilogy of novels that tell the story of Prester John, his compatriots, his wife, and the magical India-that-is-not-India of a mythology that i confess i know very little about. It's books within a book, and stories within stories, and other people have likely already done a better job than i could describing it.

One of the things i love about all of Valente's work is that her characters are so human, so full of idiosyncrasies and flaws and feelings that i can feel them out just as i do real people. I can create theories and see if the text bears them out, if i can guess motivations and loyalties and infidelities. In Habitation, the freaks and monsters have a humanity beyond that of the human, who is a monstrous and very mortal infant in a land where no one dies.

It's not an easy book. There are stories wrapped in stories, broken into pieces, and swathes of narration are missing by design. The prose is dense and thick and poetically lovely, and each narrator has a different voice. It's a story based on an established mythos, and it helps to have some background in it. While i know little of Prester John, my Catholic upbringing served me well for filling in some important details. I think the book would be less powerful without some background knowledge to rope the reader in, because so much of it is about the way events become fiction and how people twist happenings to make them metaphorical or allegorical or just prettier than the reality of things ever was. It helps to at least have the vague trappings of Christianity going in, because the power in it comes from the way 'knowledge' rubs against 'knowledge' and reality is somewhere between.

But i think it's a timely book, honestly. The internet is all aflutter with talk of bullying and righteousness and correctness and awareness, and Habitation is one of those stories that shows all sides of the way that those things go. There's the tenuous balance of manners and acceptance and understanding, and the way all those things can be tamped down by one loud voice sounding over them. John could stand in for so many things in this world, and in holding him accountable for what he does, i can only see how easy it is for people to be so blind that they (and by they i mean all of us, honestly) cannot accept that there are more things in this world ever dreamt of in our little philosophies, and that there ought to be room for all of them.

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rui: (Default)
i will gladly stay an afterthought.

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