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

Monday, July 13, 2009

#53: The Angel's Cut -- Elizabeth Knox

It was cold and dark under the water. Far away the ships' propellers whined like bees caught behind a curtain. Xas hung beneath the surface and looked up through murky transparency at that surface in reverse -- the gleam of light on the backs of the waves. After a moment he saw the ragged star of Lucifer's form pass above him. The sea turned momentarily smooth in the downblast of the angel's wings. Then Lucifer banked and drove upward ... (p.7)

Sequel to The Vintner's Luck, which I adore and am now eager to reread: not yet sure if I love this one as much but it's taken up residence in the back of my mind. The Angel's Cut, unlike the earlier novel, is told predominantly from the point of view of unwinged angel Xas (though there are other, more human and equally compelling narrators), and Xas is distinctly different, preternatural, strange. The multiple voices triangulate Xas's experience of the world, showing us the strangeness of his everyday behaviour (walking like a drunkard, each step a caught fall) and the invisibility of his inner turmoil.

Sobran, Xas's true love, is long-dead, and Xas -- following a brief career as navigator on a German airship in World War I -- winds up in California, in the nascent Hollywood film industry. He's drawn to fascinatingly broken people: to eccentric producer and aviator Conrad Cole (perhaps modelled on Howard Hughes); to Flora MacLeod who's survived a horrific accident and endures chronic pain with grace and style; to Millie Cotton, woman of colour and stunt pilot who has a sense of which jobs to take and which to leave.

Xas is also pursued by his nemesis / brother Lucifer, who needs him: the nature of the compact between Xas, Lucifer and God is explored more thoroughly, and Xas's unique state explained.

The Angel's Cut is a term relating to winemaking; it refers to the portion of a barrel of wine that evaporates during ageing. The novel, though, is firmly grounded in the world of film, with discussions of the difference between conversation and dialogue, the inadequacy of flashbacks as a method of character development, the shape of a story. Flora's a film editor, and she's constantly looking for the flow, the shape of her own story: perhaps she also helps to give shape to Xas's history.

And Xas has some hard lessons to learn: about the nature of love, about speech and silence, about broken souls. He loves a lot -- Cole, Flora, his captain Hintersee, Alison -- and he's fearlessly submissive, ready to give everything and still suspecting that it's not enough, that it -- that he -- is irrelevant to human life. Is there anything that can bring him closer to being human, to being 'people'?
... harm or homage, he deserved both. He let it happen. He'd think about what it meant some other time... He took what hurt but couldn't harm him. It was better than being dropped out of a plane into the sea. It was more personal. And afterwards they weren't so far apart. (p.290)

This novel made me cry (O'Brien) and laugh and marvel at Knox's use of language -- though some especially resonant sentences take a surprising amount of unravelling.

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