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

Thursday, November 08, 2007

#70: Dream Angus -- Alexander McCall Smith

Another in the Canongate Myth series (in which mainstream authors tackle classic myths, with mixed results): this is the first work I've read by the author, despite his near-constant presence on the bestseller lists. His style is deceptively simple, and his approach -- a kind of Impressionist melange of simple retelling and contemporary echo -- suits his subject, the Celtic god of love and dreams, very well, though it has a vague unfinished feel like a dream fading at waking.

Angus's father is the Dagda, ruler of the Celtic pantheon, cunning and paranoid and fickle as Zeus. The Dagda banishes Angus after one of those nasty prophetic dreams: Angus is raised by a foster-father, and grows up gentle and peaceful, loved by his foster-family, inspiring dreams of romance in the young women he meets, drawing songbirds to him as he sleeps, calming the fiercest hound by his presence.

Angus's story weaves through others: the tale of Jamie and Davie, two brothers in Depression-gloomy 1930s Scotland, inseparable until Davie's invited to seek his fortune in Canada, which development devastates Jamie 'til he's sent a dream of dark trees and snow and knows, somehow, that Davie will still be there for him in the dream-world. The tale of Pig Twenty, a genetically-modified pig bred for medical reasons, and the gentle unambitious keeper who wants to rescue him -- and of the secretary who falls in love with the pig-keeper, against all inclination but with a joyful recognition of something that's right. The tale of two honeymooners, a man with a secret and a woman who dreams of it. Of a son who finds out that his father is not his father. A wife who walks out on her husband and seeks therapy. Brothers, secrets, childhood, the sound of birdsong.

McCall quotes Auden in his introduction: "Angus puts us in touch with our dreams - those entities which Auden described so beautifully in his Freud poem as the creatures of the night that are waiting for us, that need our recognition." I hadn't encountered that phrase before: I like the way it made each dream a vulnerable entity rather than a divine messenger or a symptom of some inner sickness. But are the dreams characters in and of themselves, separate and distinct from the god who bestows them? From these stories, I'd call the dreams gifts rather than entities: blessings given, not something born.

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