Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Lost Empire



Another book that made a huge impact on me is Maribou Stork Nightmares (at wikipedia) by Irvine Welsh.

This was one of those lucky finds just cruising the bookstore and reading first lines. I actually read this one before I read Trainspotting, at a time when I was really unaware of who Welsh was and what he was all about. It actually took me a good three chapters to realize what he was doing with language. Once it clicked, though, he immediately became one of my favorite writers. There's nothing worse to me as a reader than sitting through a novel where the author obviously isn't really listening to how people speak (and I mean more than just dialect, I mean rhythms and situational choices--when people whisper, it isn't just about volume, for instance, but word choice, too). I don't know how close Welsh got to how Scots actually speak, but I do know that he is a master of rhythm and situational choices.

That first chapter where the three worlds are as-yet un-separated is just dynamite. You know I'm a sucker for experimental writing, and also for first lines. The first line of the novel is "It.was.me.and.Jamieson." Immediately, he's playing with rhythm, and with expectation. I was hooked.

I actually didn't know it was a novel about a sexual assault survivor before reading--and I really like that: as the character is rediscovering this fact, we the reader aren't fully aware, either. To me that seems...this'll sound silly, maybe, but it seems less cruel to the character (even if, at the end, we have to wonder if he deserves the sympathy). The dramatic irony is reduced and we are less inclined to judge him. That seems important to me, because it would have been easy for Welsh to just tell us he was assaulted and then proceed from there. It took time to craft a story in which we don't know any more than the protagonist does. That delay allows us to be shocked by his actual nature, which we also don't discover until the very end.

I love the idea of a novel taking place in three separate "worlds," too. How the narrative moves between them easily (once the pattern is established). Welsh is having to master three completely separate stories and the conventions that come with them (recovery story, adventure tale, and contemporary "flashback" novel). This novel actually did a lot toward helping me understand Dissociative Identity Disorder (though the character doesn't live plural, he does experience his internal "space" in a way that is very D.I.D.-like).

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