Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A simple lack of temporal focus

Most psychic abilities are caused by a simple lack of temporal focus, and the mind of Agnes Nutter was so far adrift in Time that she was considered pretty mad even by the standards of seventeenth-century Lancashire, where mad prophetesses were a growth industry.

But she was a treat to listen to, everyone agreed.

She used to go on about curing illnesses by using a sort of mold, and the importance of washing your hands so that the tiny little animals who caused diseases would be washed away, when every sensible person knew that a good stink was the only defense against the demons of ill health. She advocated running at a sort of gentle bouncing trot as an aid to living longer, which was extremely suspicious and first put the Witchfinders onto her, and stressed the importance of fiber in diet, although here she was clearly ahead of her time since most people were less bothered about the fiber in their diet than the gravel. And she wouldn't cure warts.

"Itt is alle in youre Minde," she'd say, "forgett about Itte, and it wille goe Away."

It was obvious that Agnes had a line to the Future, but it was an unusually narrow and specific line, In other words, almost totally useless.
The books I'd come equipped with simply wouldn't do. I just didn't have the head for them — I lacked focus, temporal or otherwise.

While rummaging in my mother's basement through boxes of books that belonged variously to myself, my siblings, and friends of the family who lacked closets and crawlspaces, I came across a copy of Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, which may in itself have been considered a good omen. With Clive Barker proclaiming that "the Apocalypse has never been funnier," it seemed appropriate reading material with which to start the new year.

On the outside it looked brand new (I myself cracked the spine of this mass market paperback [do they even print those anymore?]), but the pages were yellowed and it smelled old. Pricemarked $6.99. This edition bears no sign of a subtitle, neither on its cover or in the copyright page, although the covers of most other editions seem to include one ("The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch").

It served very well for the hours-long train journey, and a couple late nights requiring the mind to be emptied, stilled, entertained.

So, the Apocalypse. The Antichrist, switched at birth, raised in the British countryside. An angel who runs a used bookshop where customers occasionally inconvenience him. A witch's descendant and a collection of mostly useless prophecies. Four Horsemen. Mayhem ensues.

Good Omens is quite hilarious in parts.
The only things in the flat Crowley devoted any personal attention to were the houseplants. They were huge and green and glorious, with shiny, healthy, lustrous leaves.

This was because, once a week, Crowley went around the flat with a green plastic mister, spraying the leaves and talking to the plants.

He had heard about talking to plants in the early seventies, on Radio Four, and thought it an excellent idea. Although talking is perhaps the wrong word for what Crowley did.

What he did was put the fear of God into them.

More precisely, the fear of Crowley.

In addition to which, every couple of months Crowley would pick out a plant that was growing too slowly, or succumbing to leaf-wilt or browning, or just didn't look quite as good as the others, and he would carry it around to all the other plants. "Say goodbye to your friend," he'd say to them. "He just couldn't cut it..."

Then he would leave the flat with the offending plant, and return an hour of so later with a large, empty flower pot, which he would leave somewhere conspicuously around the flat.

The plants were the most luxurious, verdant, and beautiful in London. Also the most terrified.
(Crowley is of course a demon, and it's hinted that the mister may contain holy water.)

But it's hard to sustain the hilarity. Maybe it's me? (Full disclosure: I think Neil Gaiman is overrated, and I've never read Terry Pratchett.)

Frankly, this apocalypse bored me after a couple days. It took longer to read than for the apocalypse to actually happen.

Little things irked, like how the teenage Antichrist's dialect is represented. I mean, what really is served by writing analoggy or rappore or could of (while other characters correctly "could have")?

And like how some descriptions are very faintly (so faint that I can't even pinpoint why they offend me) sexist. "Sgt. Deisenburger had never seen a female general like her before, but she was certainly an improvement." There's nothing wrong with that sentence, but there's something nudge-winky about it. There are only a handful of examples throughout the book, but... but really? Is it necessary? Is it funny? Are we not past this yet?

And while I'm usually a proponent of the "show, don't tell" philosophy, I couldn't help but feel I was reading a very precise description of a comedy-action movie, rather than reading an actual comedy-action novel. A good novel lets you picture it in your head. This novel ensures there is no mistaking what you picture, it is so carefully stage-directed for you. That's not exactly bad, but it feels intrusive — get out of my head. This may be the wrong medium for this particular story.

By novel's close, I couldn't even stand that old-book smell anymore.

Wow, am I ever critical! At this point you must be wondering what crawled up my butt to die. Maybe it's the back-pain-related crankiness, or the back-to-work crankiness. Maybe it's the looming gloom of the Trumpocracy. Just not feeling the funny. I'm switching back to short and angsty novels for the foreseeable future.

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