MARGARET by PF Jeffery (Tuerqui's Treasure Books 2010)
This DFL real-time review of the above book continues from HERE
" 'Seeing you with all those bondlings at Solstice, Margaret, it ran through my head that you might be happier enslaved.' "
A chapter that mixes crudities with protocols, secrets with spies, sauce with taming ... leading to a hilarious, yet disturbing, 'Restoration Comedy' type scenario within the book's plot that includes dressing the lamb for slaughter in the most appetising fashion (my image, not the book's) as Margaret meets her husband-to-be for the first time, an event that finally confirms the Surretrix (if not the Slave) within her. Then to the theatre - for a real Restoration Comedy? (20 Jul 10 - five hours later)
" 'Does the girl need to be present?' Wilfred Addal asked testily.
'Fiddling with a girl relaxes me,' the crown prince replied. 'It clears the mind wonderfully. You should try it yourself.'
'I think not,' the spymaster growled.
'Please yourself, but I kept a girl on my knee for the strategic deliberations leading to the victories against the Ex Moor bandits - and saving my friend the earl's pardon - against Ampsher.' "
In addition to each chapter's impressively ever-pungent scene-setting pieces of prose, Margaret's narrated 'dialogues' take rumbustious, almost farcical, turns, with sexual gropings at a formal War Council, till it is decided that they need deaf whores for groping instead so as to maintain secrecy. Margaret's wedding is again postponed because of military diversions, with semaphore signals playing a part in the thrust of the plot. A theory on 'slavery' potentially working in both directions of family trees, or have I got confused (rhetorical question)? And following the 'cracked meadow' earlier on (and in this chapter the stroke of virgin cracks!) we have here mention of the 'Meadowlands' that lend - to my mind alone perhaps - a gentle backdrop to the crosswire panoply of basic instincts. (20 Jul 10 - another 3 hours later)
"Scowling, I wished that the topic of ghosts had been allowed to rest. This seemed to be just the sort of talk to enrage the uneasy dead. I tried to form the sign of Mortalia without Jenna or the countess noticing."
This chapter seems to represent some crux or tipping-point in Margaret's life - amid marsh mud, spyglasses and kidnappings etc - where she grows Surrenely much closer to her cousin Jenna - including "With a sense of release, the confused strands of my childhood feelings began to unknot" and "It may be this love-making coloured my understanding - for the rest of my life - as to what the relationship of mistress and slave is, or at least should be." (21 Jul 10)
"Colossal statues formed the gateway pillars. [...] The two figues symbolised the power of the Blood Victoria which my paternal grandfather had usurped."
This book has much powerful scene-setting and history - but even more love-making in between ... and a tension between the two or a synergy? This tension or synergy sets up apparent 'salaciousness' for the reader (slave/mistress role-playing, S/M, incessant love-making in its truest sense as well as in a more basic sense of 'squirming heaps') i.e. a tension or synergy between that salaciousness (as described above) and its context -- and which of them, if any, is the priority? Much is left untold about certain time gaps and other events while what is more often told (together with its evocative context of place and history and the five senses) seems to tend towards that salaciousness of Margaret's life. Each reader will have to make their own mind up on how that tension or synergy works out for them. I will not discount the possibility that the salaciousness is simply a key towards an emerging spirituality. Again the readers will have to make their own minds up as they proceed through the novels. The danger is that some readers who might eventually achieve the correct balance of tension or synergy - as unknowably intended by the author - may be too early deterred (or even halted or never started reading it in the first place), i.e. too early deterred from appreciating these books by a wrong interpretation (within themselves) of the tension or synergy described above. [A glib aside on my part as a rhetorical question.: the stamina of these girls for love-making seems insatiable - does this also apply to the men in this book's 'world' or are they stymied by the same too easily drained sumps of their bodies as in our own world?]
" 'In the story books, it's a handsome prince who gets the girl. In real life, it seems to be a beautiful princess.'
'It's just that you've read the wrong books.'
'It's not the books you read that matter,' I said. 'It's the books you live.' " (21 Jul 10 - three housr later)
"My focus fell upon a child's doll, lying on its back, wide eyes staring at the sky as though in terror. Tiny hands reached upwards, legs splayed oddly, reminiscent of broken limbs. The plaything's dress had been white, but mud now spattered its folds. At first, I thought that it was also bloodied - but, on reflection, decided that its miniature garment had been decorated with a little red stitchwork."
Here the book itself becomes stitched with the truth of blood (as Surrey girls foment real battles and mayhem, as witnessed by the erstwhile participants in earlier less dangerous 'battles' of squirming bodies in sex) paralleling 'as though' and 'reminiscent of' above: an interesting mutual foil of truth and fiction.
Elsewhen, it seems as if Margaret and Jenna expect to be taken North along the Grand Junction Canal - and there is an effective description of a game of 'calendar bones', plus cartography and steam engine physics.
This chapter adroitly represents the 'context' element of this book as relief from the the 'salaciousness' element for the benefit of these elements' tension-towards-synergy. (22 Jul 10)
" '...the waterways are no longer safe - Cap'n Gentle, the pirate, is ravaging the Grand Junction. We live in dangerous times.' "
Preparations for travelling northward for Margaret et al (and the party does in fact depart at the end of the chapter like a Wagon Train in the Wild West of our times!) - but there are more than just hints of impending treachery by those close to our heroine.
I am of course enjoying this book - how could one not enjoy it with it being so well written? I have mixed evaluations, however, as I can't shake off the previous three versions of this work I've read over the years (so as to judge this latest (final) one in isolation as a fresh experience) and, in the past, I have preferred books with chunky prose rather than a lot of dialogue, books with a tinge of negativity rather than this book's presumption of positivity -- and there are some characters' names that I can't get a handle on ... and I still keep a watching brief on the balance of themes and I have misgivings yet to assuage. However, it is a wonderful work (indeed it simply must be wonderful to remain wonderful for me in spite of those personal 'problems' of mine above) and I am confident that these novels will one day be read far more than they are read at the moment.
The book's 'alternate and/or parallel world' -- or post-holocaust world reflecting parts of our world or whatever sort of world it represents -- is certainly a world that becomes more real and engaging chapter by chapter. And I still have two more chapters to read... (22 Jul 10 - five hours later)
"So I sank into a fitful slumber, punctuated by disturbing dreams that melted like snowflakes every time I opened my eyes."
The north-heading group pass places along the Emson Road and reach Watt's Ford Gap Services for overnight stay. As ever, with short paragraphs of much wonderful prose description and dialogue - with place-names near but not too close to the names we know in our own world - and with an adroitly conveyed sense of fear regarding possible ambush. My concerns relating to the possible 'tension / synergy' of plot matters have currently been eased and I trust the author is indeed hitting the optimum balance on this score. One reason for bringing up such checks and balances is my own wondering about this book's default (or intended?) audience: the author alone, a small coterie with an acquired taste, a larger genre enclave, or other gradations of audience (literary/popular?) towards a mass market? I'm of course hoping it reaches towards the latter end of that scale. (23 Jul 10)
"Although she talked a great deal, the dowager Duchess imparted very little information. Her every utterance involved a value judgement assessing everything as either horrid or simply divine."
Some very effective and vividly bloodcurdling scenes (brutal nazemen, canal pirates(!), Lady Isobel's intitations, and Inqui with the whip hand etc) whereby Margaret reaches spoiler-territory as Tuerqui. I found the sense of humiliation (bordering on potential fulfilment?) and Margaret's enforced detachment from those once close to her all so heart-breaking yet, simultaneously, something quite indefinably different. This book is unique. One can't make easy judgements on it. Whatever else one might think about it, it is special. As a reader of Proust, Ligotti, Aickman, Elizabeth Bowen and as a writer myself of densely textured weird fiction, I would not normally think this to be my sort of book, and it must be, therefore, to its enormous credit that it is something I value reading as both enjoyable and agonisable over.
A picaresque adventure story in body and spirit: a journey into different experience zones....
To be continued (for your reading now) in The Warriors of Love Volume 5, Tuerqui ... and one day in the future, no doubt, for my real-time reviewing of it.
END (23 Jul 10 - two hours later)