“He began speaking, for example, by observing that upon a big tree there are always dead branches; that the best soldiers are never warlike; and that even good firewood can ruin a stove—sentiments which, because they came in very quick succession, and lacked any kind of stabilizing context, rather bewildered Quee Long. The latter, impelled to exercise his wit, retaliated with the rather acidic observation that a steelyard always goes with the weights—implying, with the aid of yet another proverb, that his guest had not begun speaking with consistency.”
Eleanor Catton, The Luminaries
And here again, avoiding direct report for elevated paraphrase, which is interesting especially because it is the first discussion between two non-Europeans, and therefore the first opportunity to see, maybe, a different set of voices at work (although I suppose we have seen discussions between women—but they share the same language and culture as the mass of men who dominate the story). But once again, and with admirable economy, our narrator explains her preference for summary:
“We shall therefore intervene, and render Sook Yongsheng’s story in a way that is accurate to the events he wished to disclose, rather than to the style of his narration.”
Which is interesting, for a book that relies so much on paraphrase and pronouncement, and which emphasizes so strongly its design: The Luminaries feels like a huge dominoes-maze, one of those things that takes ages to set up, and comes down in seconds with the flick of a finger. For six or seven hundred pages, Catton balances characters and events and facts, and it’s only at the very end that all the tumblers in this machine start dropping into place—a very impressive trick of construction, but so long in coming.
Little Brown 10.15.13
December 28, 2013, 9:30am Comments