Sunday, June 03, 2007


I finally reached the end of The Pesthouse - a pretty good read, but I'm not too sure on the ending, a very definite "return with the elixir" so to speak, but why does it feel like a cop out? As if the author has run out of ideas - an optionlock device with no right answer. So, the entire point of the story is to get to the East coast of America and catch a ship to Europe, but for it to be an impossible accomplishment. What do our hero and heroine do?


Tehy trun bcak and haed for hmoe.


Anyway, I wanted to talk about the use of backpeddling in chapters. We open the second to last chapter with direct narration on where the heroes are at present: their arrival at the river; and four paragraphs on how they attempt to cross said river... not important, stick with me... because, for the next five pages we backpeddle to their journey reaching the river.

Rather than open the chapter with the journey, Crace returns to it having set up a not ideal situation:
... the last remains of the log boardwalk that had led up from the gravel landing beach through levees of sediment and saved the ferry passengers from a drenching, first-foot contact with the east.

Margaret and Franklin's journey from the coast had been slower but more comfortable than either of them had the right to hope. It had seemed as natural and inevitable as swimming upstream for a salmon...

Simple answer really. Crace has chosen to open with the most interesting, most pertinent points. The reader is interested with exactly how the heroes will cross the river when the bridge is gone, and they have a baby in tow. But it is also fairly important to show us moments from the journey (even though very little happens there) because the reader needs to continue to see the relationship develop between the two. So, as seen above, Crace does this simply by completing his thought on where they are and then moving back.

As Solvejg always says to me: "You've got to learn to look at things either close up or far away, but not by jumping between them." Crace makes this step backwards, and focuses, he doesn't then flit back and forth so that we end up in a flashback sequence.

Wait! There's more... from the New Master of Horror (as he was once labelled)... Clive Barker. In his Books of Blood, the first tale therein (not of the creation of the Book itself) The Midnight Meat Train, Barker opens with the protagonist, then the city, the the horrific murders that have taken place, before backpeddling to the first:

... The meat-packaging plants on the water-front were being watched, the slaughter-houses scoured for clues. A swift arrest was promised, though none was made.

This recent trio of corpses was not the first to be discovered in such a state; the very day that Kaufman had arrived a story had broken in The Times that was still the talk of every morbid secretary in the office.

The story went that a German visitor, lost in the subway system late at night, had come across a body in a train...

And the manner in which this backpeddling occurs develops a kind of tell that works as no tell usually does. In the case of Midnight Meat Train we are given a dissection of how the body was found, clothes tidied into bags, body hung upside down, drained of blood, etc, which isn't really a show by any standard is it? (Answers on a postcard), but it uses the set up to allow exposition, because we know it won't last long and we'll return to normal viewing shortly.

Now, that is an interesting use, isn't it? How did our characters get to here? How did that body die and come to be hung upside down to drain, like beef slit gullet to groin? Well, here's how, but let's not dwell, we have a story to tell!

Of course Crace's works because it develops the relationship. Barker's works because it is something really disgusting - lots of visual imagery.

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