Posts Tagged ‘fantasy writing’

Out Damned Spot, William Shakespeare Crime-Scene Cleaner , by F J McQueen. Published by Urbane Publications, 2016

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This is the most extraordinary work of fiction that I have read in a long, long time.

1

We expect fiction to be set in our known world, where responses to environment are known, our own experience, and as ordinary. In a fantasy work the same applies: they are all recognisable people in recognisable situations, it is the details that are different.
But what if one’s responses to the environment became other than the known? What if the environment became other than our experienced world?

The shift, here, is in cognition: something is different, something is ‘other’, and nothing becomes accessible to the ‘predictive text’ of our inner narration.

The story centres around the nodes of Shakespeare’s main plays. We navigate a world that opens, like the Shakespearean world discovering its America.
Will Shakespeare is on the last day of his work as a hospital doctor. What had gone wrong? We presume that something had. And why was he woken once more at midnight with that terrible sound? One that no one else could hear?
The ordinary of that world, though, was not our ordinary.
He set up next day as a Crime-Scene cleaner. The crimes? The plays are littered with the wrongfully dead.
His cleaning fluid – and here we enter a world truly chilling – is mysteriously provided for him by nine seriously unsettling people. Or are they all emanations of one? And their price? A meal of oneself.

2

There is a short story by Leonora Carrington, Cast Down By Sorrow, where the narrator meets the elderly but coquettish Arabelle Pegase. She speaks of her clothes, and mentions a dress she has that is made from cat’s heads,
What was your reaction to that? Horrified, like mine? And yet I think that her intention with this image is something else – it is a changed aesthetic, even a changed system of ethics, that she is describing.
It is used as an artistic, painter’s, image, visual and tactile, rather than humanistic.
And similarly here, the images in this book have their own wholeness, inner logic, that is not literary in the narrow sense that it is being used more and more at the present time.

There is an incident where a soil boat appears – or is it a grave? It takes you places; it takes you to the river of time where golems struggle to hold back a certain day. Made of clay they crumble constantly as they strain and struggle to keep hold against the flow of time. As they crumble new ones take their place, a constant renewing. But you sense the struggle, the need.
These are not literary images, but visual images – they could work as graphic images in a graphic novel. The visual, this is where the where the book’s Venn-structure overlaps the most.
But, some might say, golems do not appear in The Plays. No, but they are part of the sensibility of the period, of the wider environment of the time. And also of our time.
This is one of the many aspects of the book I especially like, it’s willingness to not stay harnessed to ploughing the narrow furrow of what we now take to be The Plays.

Take MacBeth’s three witches, they make their appearance early on in the tale, transposed as oracles, in a hospital cupboard. And they prophesy… impossible things. But the impossibles become increasingly possible as the tale deepens into itself.

How does it work? One crack in the world-self narrative we spin for ourselves – one crack, and a different take on reality becomes possible.
It is a cognitive shift.

In another’s hand the story could become whimsy – but that does not happen. The images are impactful, the writing of a very high standard, and the overall imagining quite devastating in its range and implications.