No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Monday, May 29, 2006

#51: Cloven Hooves -- Megan Lindholm

First published in 1991 and reissued as a Voyager Classic in 2002, this is a surprisingly hard-edged novel: bad things, irrevocable things happen to the characters, and there are no easy answers.

There are two threads to Evelyn's story. One is the nostalgic recollection of her tomboyish childhood in Alaska, roaming the forest, bullied and teased by her sisters but content to be the odd one out because of the special friendship she's forged. The other thread is the tale of Evelyn the wife and mother, unwillingly transplanted to her husband's family's farm somewhere near Tacoma. Their stay on the farm -- and Evelyn's exposure to her in-laws -- is supposed to be a temporary measure, helping out while her brother-in-law recovers from an injury. But somehow the family's departure is delayed, and delayed again: and all that keeps Evelyn going is the reappearance of her old friend from the Alaskan wilderness, a creature she knows only as Pan.

The plot of the novel is much more interesting than its execution, if you see my distinction. It's about man versus nature, and nature's implacability: about being true to oneself, and about selfishness: about how a creature of legend might survive in the modern world, and how he might adapt. And all those themes, those threads, are explored, and brought to life. But the characters in the novel seem essentially two-dimensional. And Evelyn, though she narrates the tale and thus gives us insight into her emotional life, can easily be read as either very stupid, or very self-centred, or as the victim of an ancient and effective con-trick. I don't like her, and I don't understand why she puts up with the appalling treatment she receives from her in-laws. To a point, yes, she's trapped and feels powerless and out of her depth: but they are so relentlessly unpleasant that surely she should crack before she does?

And then, having cracked, having run, having turned away from humanity and towards the woods, the mystery, the heart of nature ... at the very end of the book it's all there waiting in a way that I find puzzling. It's as though Evelyn's own feelings of worthlessness are being carried over into the real world. But then, she's done so much to cut herself off from that world that it's unsurprising to find those last ties being severed, without emotion.

What I liked about this novel was the sheer brutality of nature, and of Pan. This is not some hazy, sunlit idyll: this is the tale of a woman who follows a faun into the woods when winter's on its way, and finds herself living the raw side of the myth. She must submit to nature, and to its embodiment in Pan: and there are indications that what is left when spring comes is a stronger, more human individual.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:56 pm

    Excellent review. I did not much care for Evelyn either, for much the same reasons as you gave, but the story would not have been there had she been a stronger woman.

    By the way, I found your review via LibraryThing...great tool, isn't it?