Sunday, October 18, 2009
The Stone Gods
[images from the Hubble site]
There is a book that I thought didn't exist but it does. I thought I was going to have to write it. Isn't that the reason people write books? Because no-one has written the one you want to read? But I'm happy to have discovered that it does in fact exist. Jeanette Winterson has written it. Its called The Stone Gods
This is a relief. I'm glad I don't have to write it, because I wouldn't do as good a job as she has done. Writing such a book myself would have been long, arduous and painful. Now I just get to read it and delight.
Y'see, I think its true that we only have one book in us, as they say. But there are also books on the outside of us, ones that float around looking for a home. Book ghosts seeking out potential carriers, vessels they can pour themselves into. This book, or parts of it, swooped past me a couple of times. I heard it, but only in the way you hear an aeroplane overhead and think wistfully to yourself, I really want to go to Costa Rica.
I resisted. I'm like that. My approach seems to be - if you have the urge to write something, resist it until it goes away. If it comes back and back and back, then you've got a story. Or, as Gustav Holst once said, "Never compose anything unless the not composing of it becomes a positive nuisance to you."
Obviously, in this case the ghost gave up and tried someone imminently more receptive and worthy, namely Ms Winterson. She netted it. ("The word you put down is the net for the one that got away," she writes).
Oh, obviously I'm being whimsical. Its not exactly the same book that fluttered past me, but its speculative fiction (a genre I love) and its threaded on themes I've wanted someone to write about - what would happen if we did discover a new, life-supporting planet? What would we do with it? Intergalactic travel, post climate change evacuation, corporate control, space tourism, love between a human and a beautiful robot. A repeating world.
The imprint in me is Atlantis. Technologies and civilisations so separated from emotional integrity that they follow the doomed survivor imperative: destroy ourselves as we exalt ourselves. For Winterson, it's Easter Island. People that ran out of trees whilst erecting the gods that would destroy them. Well, stories such as these litter our histories, don't they? Great Zimbabwe, I seem to remember reading, had to be abandoned because the environment could no longer support the civilisation.
So she takes this premise of a repeating world, a world where we don't learn. Where we simply cannot lift ourselves out of our cycles. Programmed to forget as fast as we learn. She takes this premise and she spins it into gold-skeined meditations on starting over.
What I am completely smitten by in this book are the melodic incantations. The swelling, cresting breaking rhythms. The way she can make tension and narrative bust out of a list - not a preposition in sight.
Its not a perfect book. But she is such a magician with language.
These are some of the repeating themes that underpin the book's philosophy:
"Is this how it ends?
It hasn't ended yet."
(the repeating world)
"And I remember it as we had seen it on that first day, green and fertile and abundant, with warm seas and crystal rivers and skies that redden under a young sun and drop deep blue, like a field at night, where someone is drilling for stars."
(the hymn to earth)
"A quantum universe - neither random nor determined. A universe of potentialities, waiting for an intervention to affect the outcome.
Love is an intervention."
(the universe of potentialities)
"Everything is imprinted for ever with what it once was."
I'm glad this book imprinted on her. Read it, and let it be imprinted on you.