Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Land Across

Well, I finished Gene Wolfe's most recent book last night. It's filled to the brim with Wolfeish strangeness. Now, however, I feel like I'm better able to articulate why this phenomenon occurs. It's all about the narrators.

Wolfe writes many of his books in the voice of one of the characters. In the case of many of them, that narrator's perspective skews what's going on. Sometimes they're downright unreliable. In The Land Across, the narrator is an American who goes to a mysterious country that appears to be in Eastern Europe and gets into trouble. He meets lots of people and has adventures, none of which make a lot of sense until the end. There are cults, and severed hands (well, just one, I guess), and the crumbling castle of Vlad the Impaler.

Throughout, the narrator never tells us everything. And half the dialogue feels like it's intentionally non sequitur. The whole thing made me light headed, but in a good way. Especially the last two pages.

I was reading along, thinking I had wrapped my mind around everything. I understood the severed hand, and the undead dragon, and there was the mystery of the man in black, but I never expected to understand that one...and then I came to the sentence, "Except that I switched seats on the plane."

Nothing in the previous 285 pages had prepared me for that sentence. I read the rest of the book (all of a page) in a stupor. He switched seats on the airplane. I just wasn't ready for that.

Edited to add: He also includes a cool proverb that, apparently, he invented, on page 174: He that hunts the devil need pack a long spear.  Also I fixed the airplane sentence above.

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