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

Thursday, December 25, 2014

2014/45: Anarchy -- James Treadwell

There was a kind of clarity to it. The girl who wouldn’t talk, walking out of a locked cell, paddling away into the mist; the boy on the beach where the whale had been, huddled around that extraordinary mask; the messages from the rest of the world announcing that all was not well [...] No, she thought, I don’t know what’s going on; but so what? It was kind of like unpacking. You just did what was in front of you. Or like walking in the fog: you kept on putting one foot in front of the other, even though you couldn’t see where you were headed.[loc. 2354]

In Advent, teenaged Gavin travelled (or was exiled) to Cornwall to stay with his aunt Gwen, and became friends with the mysterious and sheltered Marina -- as well as a young Anglo-Chinese boy, a crow-spirit, a dryad and a professor of anthropology. Though it's only October, the snow comes down steadily, and the world is changing ...

Anarchy picks up where Advent left off, more or less: Jennifer Knox, suspected murderer, disappears from a locked cell at a small police station on Vancouver Island. RCMP officer Marie-Archange Séverine Gaucelin-Maculloch (known as 'Goose') feels responsible, and tries to find the girl: meanwhile in the wider world, a computer virus -- the Plague -- is crippling government and industry. There are rumours from England of occult events, and an unending winter. A ferry is found drifting, abandoned by all on board. But Goose's world narrows to the search for Jennifer, even when she's told to let it go.

Female disobedience is something of a theme in this novel. As well as Goose, there are two other viewpoint characters: Izzy, Gavin's stepmother / aunt, and Marina, a naive teenager who's never left the family estate. Both refuse to stay at home and wait. Izzy gets on her bike and cycles from London to Cornwall through apocalyptic conditions; Marina decides to go out into the world.

In a fairy tale the women's initiative, their boldness and courage, would be rewarded with success in their quests. But this is not that kind of story, and each woman's reward is a savage loss.

One might expect Gavin's self-appointed quest to be at the core of Anarchy, and in a way it is: but he passes through unrecognised (as does the BT engineer who visits Izzy: I only realised who he was on second reading). No, Anarchy is the story of three women who incur the displeasure of magical beings. Treadwell writes female characters with astonishing depth, warmth, and subtlety: each has a distinctive voice and a complex psyche. It's a shame they're all doomed ... the plot of these novels depends on a great deal of cruelty, often to women. I don't believe it's authorial misogyny, though -- and certainly there are plenty of male casualties of the resurgence of magic.

Dark, obscure, haunting (this novel gave me bad dreams: this is an excellent sign!) and with stunning prose: as soon as I'd finished this, I pre-ordered Arcadia, the trilogy's conclusion ...

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