Sunday, October 05, 2008

'Odalisque' by PF Jeffery (DFL's comments on Chapter 27)

Chapter 27 – River

The Chapter as River? Lundin? (Peter Ackroyd?) One questions even the obvious while the narrative implicates an Alternate World with which the mischievous footnotes are in conspiracy;

Cigarette: A paper tube filled with dried weed. One end was ignited, and smoke inhaled from the other. This practice, known as smoking, was much in vogue during the Old Time, but has ever been banned in genuinely civilised communities. Lundin was the chief centre of smoking at this time and remained so until the city was placed under imperial control. Lady Jane Daventry, visiting Lundin in YD 730, described it as a great smoke hole. It has been suggested that smoking had a narcotic effect.

Tuerqui plies a pair of Pollygoggers’ flies, e.g.:

The business had proved less unpleasant than I’d expected. Although I took no pleasure in him as such, there was an unanticipated element of arousal in contemplating my revenge – the link between sex and power, most certainly. There may even have been a slight disappointment that he’d lasted no longer, but if so, it was my fault – with my skills, he could have continued for half an hour, had I so chosen. It felt good in itself to be that much in control – our battle raging on the field of my choice.

A telling passage, this, as are these two:

In Drizzlemoon, the goddess had – in truth – delivered me to my mistress and Tuerquelle. This time, I sensed, it would be a matter of delivering myself. My deliverance would require the goddess’ aid, but it would be my doing.

In personage, those I had considered my friends – one way or another – had turned out not to be. Jenna was the supreme example. As a slave, my ownership of nothing ensured that friendships were genuine.


A long passage worth dwelling on:

Long before noon, and making good speed, we passed the first ruinous shanties of outer Lundin. The squalid region seemed not to have changed since I’d last seen it. Rats scuttled through rubbish heaps, sometimes pursued by lean dogs. Ragged children pelted one another with filth – Carp-eye levelled a small crossbow in their direction.
“The first one to mess me boat – or the tow line slaves – is dead,” he called – his voice matter-of-fact, rather than angry.
The urchins seemed to believe him, within moments they were gone. A cart drawn by trimmed he-slaves brought a fresh load of rubbish. Circling gulls descended as its contents were tipped. Human scavengers appeared – it was impossible to tell whence they came.
As ever, a fog bank enfolded the West Minester marshes. With the gloom closing upon me, I shuddered – in spite of the company of my fellow slaves, this place remained frightening. Glancing nervously at the wraiths of swirling mist, I saw the vague outline of something bulky. It occurred to me that it might be the rock on which Jenna had initiated our first game of mistress and slave.


There is, as above, much of the inscrutable about this chapter for me. In a good way. As if working hard for the riparian rights tantalisingly held out by the author’s ‘truth’ in the fiction.

Like this passage, too, that, so far, remains unresolved:

A strange elfin girl, probably in her late teens, regarded us with an enigmatic expression. Her light brown hair was cut short and stood in a series of spikes. She was wrapped in a long dark cloak. In a blink, the apparition had gone, and I was left uncertain as to her objective reality.

I don’t know, but ‘discern’ for me is a question of sight not hearing:

The amplification was barely sufficient for me to discern his words.

Should it be ‘borne’ not ‘born’:

The hostility I’d born her not long before evaporated without trace.

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Word docs of the actual chapters are freely available to readers of this blog.

The links to all Chapter comments by me are here: HERE

1 comment:

Pet said...

Thank you for that.

You are quite right about borne/born – either a spelling mistake or a typo that had escaped my attention. Thank you for pointing it out. It’s now corrected.

You are also right in saying that the word “discern” usually refers to vision rather than hearing. Uncertain that it could mean what I wished it to mean in this context, I have consulted Chambers Dictionary. I find this: “to make out; to distinguish by the eye or understanding…” The sense, here, is precisely “distinguish by understanding”. Tuerqui can hear the sound well enough, I think, her difficulty is in understanding the sound as a series of words. (Note that she doesn’t say “discern the sound”, but “discern his words”.)

The footnotes may well be mischievous, but I think that the cigarette one indicates that by Jennifer Petrie’s time (maybe 800 years after Tuerqui) smoking had been consigned to history. And a jolly good job, too, I say.

Interesting that you quote the paragraph about friendship immediately after the one about Tuerqui needing (with the help of the goddess) to deliver herself. (The two paragraphs are not found together in the text.) Tuerqui’s deliverance from her father’s palace is destined to be not just by her own efforts, but with the help of friends (as well as the goddess). So there is to prove a strong link between these paragraphs. Making friends is important in the following chapters.

Re-reading the extended passage you quote, I feel really pleased with it.

I am delighted that you were especially struck by the passage about the elfin girl. This is the first introduction to someone who will become an important character. Revealing that much falls short, I think, of a spoiler – but I’d better not say more of her at this stage.