Thursday, April 24, 2014

known far and wide as Fabulatorius

His characters always have those potential afterlives but the afterlife is not always the same kind of afterlife. The earlier books are the ones in which he's more realistic, if that's the right word, realism, when I think back over his work, now looking like the unexploded seed of the later ghosts and Gods and those books where the importance of a character will be established with “he was a king,” or “she was Persephone,” no longer the unknown dreamy person living in poverty whose importance is established with pages of thought described; all of those poor people being secret kings at heart and all of the kings secretly poor people.

The early Powys character is not actually returning to life but only exerting an unnatural influence over the living as the protagonist Adrian does, for example, in the author's second book, Rodmoor, which ends with a woman dragging Adrian's fresh corpse into the sea because she wants to keep him away from his fiancé, who does not deserve him. “It seemed as though the demon of madness, which had passed from Adrian at the last, and left him free, had entered into her.”

Death is still a dramatic event in the later novels but it is no longer the prime dramatic event and Thomas Hardy has stopped steering the tragic rhythm of the plot. A child has taken over from Hardy and the child barely recognises death, it only knows the linear game of now-what-happens, so that in Real Wraiths Powys starts with a king of ghosts who is – he's something: what is he? He is unhappy. All right, now what does he do? He talks to a pair of iron railings. Then he talks to his ghostly subjects. He has a friend. He trusts his friend. Never mind. The story has veered off with two of the subjects, who are Welsh, and who are lovers or not: “in a sense they had been lovers too” while they were alive, so the matter is up in the air – well, they have exchanged vows, “Tang remembered the day, long before they both died, when he first told her that he loved her,” and then, without explanation they are siblings but apparently not lovers any more although there's a fleeting allusion much later on (“Wang and Tang glanced knowingly at each other as their minds flew back to various incidents in former days”), and the king disappears from the book along with the enormous genocidal plans he's been making (what happened to those? what happened to his fellow plotter and planner, whose name is Mr. Glottenko?), though for a short while it looked as if the story was going to be his story, the king's story, because it is introduced with a sentence that asks you to settle down and prepare for a fairy tale about his problems.

The King of Blaenau-Ffestiniog ghost-world was known far and wide as Fabulatorius; and when he came up on the last day of April from visiting the body of Cockatrice Cuff as that gentleman lay at rest in his coffin, the gossip among the neighbouring ghosts was more disturbing than it had been known in that district for many a long year.

That sentence would love you to care about his troubles but the rest of the sentences don't want it so passionately, they lose their concentration, they are distracted. Shortly they don't care one way or the other and you're let off the hook, you can wander off with the siblings Wang and Tang, the prose giving you its permission, in fact insisting on it, and nobody knows who this Cockatrice Cuff might have been anyway.

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