THE ADJACENT – by Christopher Priest (Gollancz 2013)
My real-time review of ‘The Adjacent’ continues from here and into the comment stream below.
[The adjacent book shown above is ‘First Novel’ by Nicholas Royle which I reviewed here.]
Pages 161 – 173.
A footnote or adjacency of backstory or, effectively, intrastory-between-the present-and-the-future about the science professor named before in this book. I will not issue a spoiler as to how this adjacency of an adjacency blends with the preceding context, but you are in for a real treat. Combining my ‘Cern Zoo’ and quantum physics and that Lamson device I earlier mentioned (if I infer correctly from the Heath Robinson contraption in the professor’s garden), Tarent’s passive photography and Trent’s ‘misdirection’ sleight of hands. A peaceful contraption that like all such things has its opposite built in?
Pages 177 – 195.
“The sense of the open countryside out there, beyond the edge of the airfield, away from the war, hit him hard, another reminder of past years, imprecise but potent.”
My memory is also imprecise but potent. I still carry with me the power of reading ‘Inverted World’, ‘Dream of Wessex’, ‘Space Machine’ &c but not their details.
We now have another change of gear as we join Torrance the Lancaster Bomber fitter in 1943 Lincolnshire, as he finds some lost property in one of the aircraft, something colourful to contrast with the uniform drabness of wartime England that still permeated the 1950s when I was first conscious having officially been born in 1948 (but still younger than Mick Jagger!)
This tale of reuniting the lost property with its owner is so far compellingly told with immaculate Priestliness. Redolent of the period and the narrative context in which we are reading about it. Can you tell I’m enjoying this book?
Mention again of that Lamson cash-carrier contraption has reminded me that when I was a child in the 1950s I often had waking dreams of aeroplanes being threaded on invisible wires. How else could they keep up there?
Pages 195 – 223.
As I read on I have been constructively reminded of Salvador Dali’s only novel (‘Hidden Faces’ that I read a few months ago and collected my favourite quotes from it here) – with wartime pilots not dissimilar from the Polish lady we read about as a derring-do backstory within Floody Torrance’s story in 1943 and other serendipities and fortuitous synergies…
The plight of Poland in face of Hitler, the resemblances, too, the hidden faces of Flo and Melanie, Tomasz and Torrance…
Pages 224 – 246.
“The Spitfire is flown by men, but it was meant for women. We wear it like a close-fitting garment, an extra skin. I have a photograph of a Spitfire on the wall in my room, and I yearn to be inside it.”
…So spake that Polish lady.
I think Floody Torrance is an almost exact contemporary of my Dad who died in 2007, where a War had much earlier made a Life, a Life that possibly tailed off in peacetime, when he had me… An exquistely poignant story, leaving an essential mystery, a mystery to understand which you will need to read this book. Was Torrance, as they say, his own worst enemy? And who was his true spitfire sweetheart and did she crash-land some time outside of time?
Pages 249 – 267.
“So it’s a sort of false nostalgia, something I must have made up or borrowed.”
Back with Tarent at Warne’s Farm, as a severe storm tests this establishment’s secure impermeability – and I get a growing sense of a human-body impermeability, too, a written-on-the-page immunity from Time as well as from the exterior storms – and from the world’s encroaching Afghanistanisation (my clumsy word, not the book’s). But this sense of impermeability is threatened, for example, by the Mallinan-Malina bridge between otherwise discrete sections of the Book. So, is this impermeability truth or fiction, one leaking into the other? A leaking between discrete Stories. A leaking, too, from or into my real world today where many die for causes they don’t understand (as before in the two 20th century World Wars)? Just brainstorming.
Pages 268 – 285
There also.seems to be a sense of ‘leaking impermeability’ between characters as well as between the book’s otherwise discrete sections of time – and the implications of this become overtly and genuinely frightening as the transport prepares to leave for Tarent’s planned onward travel from Warne’s Farm to another destination in Hull. Why frightening? Because you think you understand it, but tantalisingly the reader feels party to the concept of impermeable yet leaking self, something not fully understood … Possibly.
Not only leaking between sections of this book, I even feel leaking between my recent separate real-time reviews as the tower at Warne’s Farm seems to reflect the tower in ‘The Quarry’…. Possibly.
Pages 289 – 294
We now seem to be accompanying another passive photographer, one called Tallant, on a journey with a woman in the well-seasoned and Priestly ‘Dream Archipelago’…
As to this book’s running leitmotif of photography – I sense that our over-ease these days with digital photography sucks humanity from its human subjects making them more images than real people, i.e. when compared to the meticulously and slow-moving and essential human activity in the old, if drab, days of posing the picture, waiting days for development and then sticking corner tabs to each corner for final affixing in the album where the photo is time-steeped for further maturing: gaining even more humanity. Like books compared to ebooks?
Pages 294 – 308.
“He felt rationality was being tested by memory.”
…and indeed testing my own aforementioned potent but imprecise memory – and, so, this is perhaps not the real author’s Dream Archipelago or my memory of it, there being an awful shanty town where Tallant and the woman stay overnight, a place that doesn’t seem to me to have earned its place there, its name also being a spoiler…. The woman? She is a missionary or Spreader of the Word, typifying the type of characters in this book who have sudden turns around of attitude or personality. Like those temperate storms in Tarent’s world, some named after famous writers, other Spreaders of the Word?
Pages 309 – 333.
“What appear to be fresh concepts or innovations are in fact the result of showmanship, or novel ways of presenting old ideas.”
…thus perhaps creating more illusion upon illusion of false memory (please see my earlier reader suggestion of a ‘beach head’ against such illusions). Meanwhile, I am enthralled entertained in this section by a magic show (cf Trent earlier) with Telphic or Lamson contrivances, the end of which I will not give away, but I guess it is a prequel to Tallant’s journey across the Dream Archipelago with the missionary woman.
“- for a performer the belief that an audience is anonymous can enhance the illusion of rapport. Knowing people in the audience could be a distraction.”
Pages 333 – 352
I have a strong sense of déjà-vu, as my previous guess barely half an hour ago turns out to be off target or, at best, oblique. There now seems leaking impermeabilitiea within an otherwise discrete ‘scenario’ as well as within other scenarios of the book. Here, Torrance’s Polish aviator lady seeks her version of Tomak or Thom in the Dream Archipelago, leaked into by the previous illusionist show and its characters and circumstances. I seem to be becoming beset by a form of amnesia imposed by this book’s illusions and other books of this author perhaps and possibly by my earlier on-line comparison of this author’s ‘Affirmation’ book with the later TV series ‘Life on Mars’.
And then there are the cable cars….
Pages 352 – 374.
I dub this Versionary SF. It reflects different versions of the same characters (cf rather immodestly ‘Nemonymous Night’) as well as different versions of the same reader, depending on that reader’s reading hinterland. And the Dream Archipelago is a sort of hinterland, a neutral state in the World War of Versions or Realities… Or that is my current critical stab at it.
Meanwhile, I love the place’s ‘genius loci’ and the protagonist becoming gradually trapped by it and by her quest for her loved one. The place itself seems to have a sleight of hand that neutralises even the availability of an escape aircraft and also seems to be optimal with subtly as well as organically different versions of events in the plot as well with the concurrently different gestalts of each reader and head-lease author and whichever narrator is narrating.
Pages 374 – 393.
“While I was living in the town I had searched the hinterland of Beathurn for markers, and I picked out two headlands to the south. These indicated a particular group of offshore islets, and contained a bay with an almost geometrically precise half-moon curve.”
As our inferentially beautiful aviator soars, in believable breath-taking detail, from the Dream Archipelago in her Spitfire, it is also breath-taking reading to follow her course as she skirts a visible Bermuda-type triangle of darkness and, later, the edges of the dog-fought 2nd World War itself, and as she nears our own white-cliffed island home….
Pages 397 – 419.
“…a new kind of weapon that Germans were launching against London: an unmanned aircraft filled with high explosives, designed to crash randomly on the city with devastating effect.”
A glimpse of a 1944 airfield as Tarent, in his own version of real-time review, continues passively to take photos but with, of course, no signal to the on-line photo archive back at some future base… As we sense rapprochement with his reunited loved-one (but don’t take my word for it), this smells like Floody’s 1944, it looks like it, it feels like it, it probably tastes like it, and I am convinced it is it, too. But I started in Essex and I am still in Essex as I close the book, but I have meantime been with a great picaresque companion of Versionary truth.
This real-time review has been written before reading any other reviews of ‘The Adjacent’.
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