I know almost everyone is elbow deep in turkey preparations for Thanksgiving. At least, not our foreign correspondents, but all of us here in the US. Except I'm not because my Irish sister-in-law has the honor of hosting our extended family for Thanksgiving and she always goes overboard and makes far too much food so I'm probably going to make some rolls and pecan pie in the morning before we head over but otherwise I've been shirking holiday preparations and instead have been hunkering down with books. At least when the kids let me, which honestly isn't very often. Lately I've been longing for those single days when I could spend an entire day in bed with a book and only have to get up to eat. I tried to do that today but it was raining out and the children, seeing me sitting in one place, kept bringing me picture books to read to them. Still, I managed to finish Mortal Love this afternoon by locking myself in the bathroom during the boys' nap time. And now I'm trying to think what I think about it and what I can possibly say. But I thought I'd just jump in and say something to get the ball rolling and see if anyone else wanted to jump in with something that is a bit more substantial.
First, a greater contrast between this and the book I finished immediately prior to it I don't think I can imagine. Italian Shoes (I wrote more about it on my blog and incidentally I'd highly recommend it as a good, quick read that would be worthwhile discussing as a group. I thought there was some real meat to chew on and some interesting themes) is so stark, bleak --Spartan really-- while Mortal Love is so lush and overwrought, with a kind of hothouse quality. Italian Shoes opens with the narrator, a solitary hermit, on an ice-bound island off or Sweden who has had minimal human contact for the past dozen years. The cast of characters is small and the action minimalist. Mortal Love is bewildering in its operatic cast. I often forgot who was who as it shifted from the Victorian to the contemporary, from the coast of Maine to New York from London to Cornwall and back again. It's an interesting study in contrasts both in subject matter and narrative style.
I didn't dislike Mortal Love; but I'm not sure it was the book I wanted to read just now. I spent the first two thirds of the book feeling rather lost and unsure whether I really wanted to continue. I thought it pulled together by the end but am still not sure I'm satisfied by the ending. I didn't think that anything in the narrative really prepared me for the role that Valentine was going to play at the climax. It felt a bit deus ex machina. But maybe I was just being a sloppy reader and missed some major textual flags. That happens sometimes.
For me the novel does raise one interesting question. It posits that human creativity is mainly the result of the fact that we are mortal and finite. If we lived forever like the fairy-folk, it suggests, our drive to create art, music, poetry would disappear. It's not a new idea for me; but as I read it here suddenly it seemed like a false idea. I'm not sure I agree that mortality is the root of creativity. I think that rather it is because we are made in the image and likeness of God and one aspect of that likeness is that we share in God's creativity. I suppose you could argue that the fairy folk being soulless beings are not made in God's image and thus do not share in the divine gift of creativity. But then you're actually arguing that creativity goes along with having an immortal soul not with a finite being. Anyway, the novel's worldview is pretty pagan so I'm not sure I'm being fair by trying to read it with a Catholic sensibility.
One gripe... it kept knocking me out of the narrative because it was so jarring. The word "refractory" kept appearing where I'm pretty sure the author actually meant "refectory" as a room in the big English manor house. I kept wondering what the heck a "refractory room" was and it wasn't meant to be an important detail at all. It wasn't just once or twice and I can't think why the copy editor didn't catch it. More, I'm not even sure from context that the author realized that a "refectory" is a dining room since in one instance the list of rooms included both "refractory" and "dining room".
The Great War, Volume Two: Chapter 1-3
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