The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen

Pushkin Press, 2014, 345 p. Translated from the Finnish Lumikko ja yhdeksän muuta by Atena Kustannus.

 The Rabbit Back Literature Society cover

After a diagnosis of defective ovaries and a broken engagement Ella Milana has returned to her childhood home of Rabbit Back to take up a post as a substitute teacher. On reading a pupil’s essay where his description of the contents does not match her recollections she discovers on inspecting his copy that odd things are happening to the contents of books in the town. They are becoming plastic, events occur in them that ought not to be there. The local librarian, Ingrid Katz, takes the offending items to destroy them.

Rabbit Back is the home of Finnish literature, author Laura White many years ago having used her fame to recruit a group of talented children – all of whom are now successful in their own right – into the Rabbit Back Literature Society whose membership is one short of its maximum number. Ella’s own literary efforts are rewarded by publication in Rabbit Tracks, a local publication, and attract Laura White’s attention. She is offered that tenth position.

On the night of her inauguration White – in full view of the assembled guests – disappears from her own living room in a whirl of snow never to be seen again and Ella discovers there was an earlier tenth member, which intrigues her – especially when she finds he died in an accident. Membership of the Society is accompanied by a system of challenge known as The Game whereby each member can demand the truth of any question about another member; a reciprocal process known as spilling and the source of many of their stories. Through The Game Ella tries to find out about the original tenth member and what happened to him.

During one of these sessions a fellow member says to her, “‘Where would we be if anything at all could turn up in books?’” that under one reality there’s always another, “And another one under that.” In addition, “Sometimes reality shrivels up and blisters around Laura White” who, incidentally, believed that bacteria on books could alter their contents. Another tells her that everybody knows that “no healthy person would take up writing novels… literature… is mental derangement run through a printing press.”

The Rabbit Back Literature Society is a sideways look at the whodunnit, with the aura of fantasy and more than a whiff of literary game-playing to it. Enjoyable stuff though.

Pedant’s corner:- tasteless (distasteful, x 2,) she tried to smile broader than before (more broadly,) as an Laura White-trained author (a Laura White-trained,) “‘I had a true natural talent in handling the ball’” (in football it’s playing the ball – unless you’re a goalkeeper; the speaker wasn’t,) out of bounds (similarly, the term is out of play,) spread out broader (again; more broadly,) the jackets on your novels (of your novels is a more natural phrase,) it didn’t even phase me (faze,) overtime (over time.)

Drachten, Friesland, The Netherlands

Drachten is a sizable town in the province of Friesland in The Netherlands.

Like most Dutch towns (I concede Frisians might not quite consider themselves Dutch) it contains buildings which verge on Art Deco in style:-

Building in Drachten, The Netherlands

Drachten, The Netherlands

I liked these stained glass windows:-

Stained Glass, Drachten, The Netherlands

It’s the curve that gives this the deco look but the rest seems too modern:-

Deco Style, Drachten, The Netherlands

These houses have the look:-

Deco Style Houses, Drachten, The Netherlands

This is certainly more like it. Art Deco “rule of three” in the windows, plus the roofline stepped at the ends and the detailing in the brickwork:-

Art Deco Style, Drachten, The Netherlands Drachten 13


Progress in Scottish Reading

A suitable post for St Andrew’s Day.

You may have noticed on my sidebar that I am reading Neil M Gunn’s Young Art and Old Hector.

This is one of The Herald’s “100” best Scottish Fiction Books.

Of the thirty books that were actually listed on that now defunct web page this means I will now have read twenty-nine (having made that my Scottish reading project for the year.)

The only one from that Herald list I have so far missed is Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh, which has appeared on all four lists I’ve been working from* – a distinction it shares only with the otherwise incomparable Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon.

For some reason I have a reluctance to tackle Welsh’s book. I have seen the film that was made from it and wasn’t overly enthused. I’ll get round to it sometime.

*Those four lists:-
100 best Scottish Books;
The Herald’s “100” best Scottish Fiction Books;
Scotland’s favourite books;
and The Scotsman’s 20 Scottish Books Everyone Should Read (from 2005.)
This last is the one I shall be working from next year. I’ll post the list in the new year.

The Cutting Room by Louise Welsh

Canongate, 2003, 300 p. One of both the 100 best Scottish Books and Scotland’s favourite books.

The Cutting Room cover

A narrator known only as Rilke – I don’t believe we are ever vouchsafed his given name – is an auctioneer and valuer for a struggling auction house in Glasgow. He receives a call to inspect the contents of a house for clearance and complete the sale quickly. The contents consist of good stuff and could save the auction house’s finances. In its attic there are rare first editions of notorious books but he is asked by the deceased’s heir – an elderly sister – to destroy them. Amongst them Rilke finds some disturbing photographs which appear to show the murder of a young woman. Intrigued by this mystery he spends most of the book trying to investigate the photographs’ origins instead of looking after the house-clearance. This brings him into closer contact with the shady side of Glasgow life than is healthy before the mystery is resolved.

The Cutting Room is written with a literary sensibility, is full of well-drawn characters and has many fine descriptive passages. While it does yield the satisfaction that detective/crime fiction provides it goes beyond that. It is a novel, pure and simple. (Well, actually not that pure – and not really simple either.) And Rilke is an unusual protagonist for a crime novel. As a debut novel I found it more accomplished than Ian Rankin’s Knots and Crosses and James Oswald’s Natural Causes. I’ll be reading more from Welsh.

Pedant’s corner:- the Great Western Road (I’ve only ever heard this referred to as Great Western Road; no definite article,) each others eyes (each others’ eyes,) burglarised (No! The word is burgled,) two missing end [and one beginning] quotation marks, our monthly sail (sale,) “in a herd that shook the ground with the weight of their hooves” (leave aside the fact that herd is singular so it should be its hooves, it isn’t the hooves’ weight that shakes the ground, it’s the buffaloes’,) thrupney bits (yes that corruption of threepenny was pronounced that way, but it was always spelled thruppenny,) asshole (arsehole,) a boy had watched “the first moon launch”, dedicated himself to space exploration, twenty years later became an astronaut, only to vomit copiously the whole time in mission after mission; his “hermetically sealed sick bags still orbit the moon” (that would be “the first moon landing” not launch, plus; the last orbit of the moon was in 1972, only three years – not twenty – after the first. Those sick bags might be in Earth orbit but would be nowhere near the Moon.) “Other ungodly titles lesbian are known by” (lesbians; but it was in a pamphlet, these are notoriously misspelled,) “aren’t I?” (Grrr! The speaker is Scottish; she would say “amn’t I?”,) shtoom (usually spelled schtum or shtum,) “I was coming warn you” (coming to warn you,) the Ukraine (the speaker is Ukrainian; they just say Ukraine, no “the”,) medieval.

Cup Fourth Round

If Sons win the Cup replay against Bonnyrigg Rose (if….) then the “reward” will be a home tie against current Cup holders Hibs.

No use us getting ahead of anything though as that’s quite a big incentive for Rose actually, as a game against Hibs would be a sort of derby for them.

Surhuisterveen, Friesland, The Netherlands

I have posted about Surhuisterveen before, here and here.

This May we were there again and I saw some deco style buildings I’d missed in 2104.

Deco Style in Surhuisterveen 1

Detailing on roof corner:-

Deco Style in Surhuisterveen Detail

This former bank is a modern building but with decoish aspects:-

Deco Style in Surhuisterveen 33

Aspect round the corner:-

Deco Style in Surhuisterveen, Gable

Deco style stained glass window. Mondrian-like:-

Deco Style in Surhuisterveen 5

We had arrived just in time for Dutch Remebrance Day (May 5th I think.) I prefer their wreaths to the British poppy-heavy ones:-

Surhuisterveen Remembrance Wreaths

Daughter of Eden by Chris Beckett

Corvus, 2016, 398 p

 Daughter of Eden cover

The narrator here is Angie Redlantern, childhood friend of Starlight, the protagonist of the previous novel in Beckett’s Dark Eden sequence, Mother of Eden, but long since struck out on her own from Knee Tree Grounds and living among the Davidfolk in Veeklehouse on the near side of Worldpool. Angie is a batface, one of the many such in Eden as a consequence of the inbreeding unavoidable in the scenario. She had for a long time been companion to Mary, a shadowspeaker faithful to the cult of Gela but was rejected by her after failing to hear Gela’s voice in the sacred Circle of Stones. The novel kicks off when Angie’s daughter, Candy, is the first to notice the men in metal masks coming across Worldpool in wave after wave of boats. Soon Angie’s family is heading out over Snowy Dark to Circle Valley to escape this invasion. There, in a strange left turn that falls outside the narrative pattern of the trilogy so far, the event that marks Angie’s life occurs. To reveal it would be a spoiler of sorts.

Beckett is of course examining origin myths and belief systems and here explicitly the question of what happens when evidence arises that directly contradicts the stories you have heard all your life, stories which that life revolves around, especially if they are stories on which your self-esteem and means of living depend. Well, belief is a stubborn beast. If you truly believe, you just rationalise that evidence away.

Beckett’s depiction of the evolution and entrenchment of social hierarchies is not an especially optimistic view of humanity. Perhaps all Edens are dark. Within it, however, while he shows us humans bickering and fighting, we also find loving and caring; so there is hope. Readable as always, Beckett involves us fully in Angie’s world, and presents us with characters who behave in the way we know they would. I’m still not sure about that life-marking event though.

Pedant’s corner:- sprung (sprang,) when when (this is not one of those instances where Eden folk use repetition of an adjective to express the comparative, a habit Beckett expands on later; just one “when” needed here,) me and her had fallen out (the English ought to be I and she or she and I but of course Angie is writing in Edenic,) me and Mary (I and Mary; Mary and I, ditto.) “Their bones, those that were left unpulverized, would be twice as old as the cave paintings at Lascaux” (twice as old as the cave paintings at Lascaux? Those cave paintings [being older than the bones] would themselves be three times as old as the ones referred to by the time concerned. “Twice as old as the cave paintings at Lascaux are now” would make more sense.) “Come Tree Road” (this corruption of the song Country Road is elsewhere “Come Tree Row”,) Johnfollk (Johnfolk,) a new kind of, story (kind of story.)

Bonnyrigg Rose* 0-0 Dumbarton

Scottish Cup** Third Round, New Saunders Park, 26/11/16.

It was great to be at an old-fashioned football ground, crowd tight to the pitch, free standing, ability to walk round the ground, no segregation – and never a hint of trouble despite that. A great occasion for Bonnyrigg; as the size of the crowd testified.

But for us this was dreadful. Against a team not even in the same football system as us and therefore technically at least five levels below ours we looked as if all we intended was to avoid defeat.

Too many passes went astray, too many players were off it. Okay we were missing a few but we should still be able to go to a Junior ground and look to attack.

They had the better of the play apart from a minor flurry at the beginning of the second half. They might only have had one threatening attempt in the first half – well saved by Alan Martin but routine enough – to our three (Garry Fleming’s effort from their mistake followed by Donald McCallum’s shot on the rebound, both well saved by their keeper, then Don’s attempt to dig out the ball after the keeper spilled a cross) but they had most of the play.

We looked comfortable enough defending – except for corners and free-kicks and a wonderful Alan Martin reflex save from one of those – but we ourselves only had a looping header on target in the second half.

Quite why Don was on from the start when they had two big central defenders who could head the ball all day is beyond me. Robert Thomson at least won a few when he came on, we might have made something of that if he had started and Don could have come on to run at them towards the end. Not that they looked lacking in fitness. The game could have gone on till next Tuesday and no goals would have been scored.

A replay is the last thing we needed; especially in the week running up to our encounter with Hibs at Easter Road. On this evidence we could go into that game out of the Cup.

*According to their website the home club’s full name is Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic.
**William Hill Scottish Cup

Fidel Castro

Whatever your opinion of him, Fidel Castro, who died yesterday, was undoubtedly one of the most significant figures of the Twentieth Century.

Not only did he somehow contrive from a very small personnel base to overthrow the government of Fulgencio Batista he managed to sustain his regime against the efforts to undermine it of a great power whose territory began only 103 miles away even when his backer, the Soviet Union, which that confrontation drew him to had fallen into the jaws of history.

The nationalisation of all US-owned businesses on the island naturally poisoned relations with it, as, no doubt, did the treatment of Batista suporters and the suppression of opposition voices. Castro did, though, institute free medical care for all and a well regarded education system.

The Cuba-US stand-off provided the biggest world crisis since the Second World War when USSR missiles were stationed on Cuban soil. Thankfully cool heads prevailed on the part of both the great powers to procure their removal.

Despite many increasingly lunatic plans to remove Castro or his influence (see first link above) he survived them all and was able to pass on his leadership peacefully.

Even if that was only to his brother he did not continue to cling to power beyond his capacity to wield it, unlike many.

Here are two opposing musical views.

Focus: Sugar Island

The Skatalites: Fidel Castro

Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz: 13/8/1926 – 25/11/2016. So it goes.

Naarden

On our way back from Ypres to the north of The Netherlands we stopped off at the small town of Naarden.

It’s a stunning place, built as a fortress surrounded by fortifications which stick out into a canal acting as a moat giving the whole the appearance of a many pointed star – and apparently only the one road in or out crossing the moat/canal.

Naarden

It has typical Dutch streets. The day we visited was a national holiday by the time we got there it was late afternoon so it wasn’t very busy.

Naarden 1

Right by the church was this statue of the man known as the father of modern education, Jan Comenius, who is buried in Naarden:-

Statue of Jan Comenius, Naarden, Netherlands

Here’s a flavour of the fortification earthworks and surrounding canal/moat:-

Naarden Fortifications Stitch

Naarden Fortifications 6

Naarden Fortifications 5

Naarden Fortifications 4

Some of the houses had an Art Deco feel, especially in the stained glass, but which may have been just Dutch:-

Naarden Stained Glass Window

Naarden Stained Glass Window

Naarden Stained Glass

There was more than a hint of deco about this doorway canopy and fanlights in “rule of three”:-

Naarden Art Deco Style

I think this may have been the old gateway to the town:-

Naarden 14

A delightful wee place, but it’s not as unique as you might think. There is another such canal/moat surrounded Dutch town. Its near the German border and called Bourtange; but we didn’t get to there.

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