Saturday, 26 November 2011

House Arrest in Paris

Having finished The House in Paris and not wishing to spoil your reading of it; if you haven't already read it, I will reserve my remarks to generalities.  In the crime novel of the puzzle sort everything is explained in the library at the end by the Poirot like figure who shows you that everything you needed to discover the killer was given to you in the plot.  There is no knowledge that is his alone.   Realistic fiction is different, like life itself motivation 'unknown' to the reader/observer can sometimes lead to strange and uncanny twists.   People do the unexpected and swerve without signalling.  The great writers can depict that without leading us by the nose, others place finger-posts so that we don't get too much of a shock.  That sort of writing need not concern us here.   How did Bowen manage in that test of writers justification?  Very well I think, but it is a fact that you have to sink into the characters and below the surface fabric of the novel to feel the greater archetypal tides.  Mme Fisher as malign anima  is how 'unknown' earns its quotes.  She is one of those spiders in Baudelaire's 'Spleen'
And the dumb throngs of infamous spiders spin
Their meshes in the caverns of the brain,
But she herself is webbed down by illness and can only marshal her minion, Miss Fisher, by rapping on the ceiling, like a communication from beyond that does not lack authority.
Mrs. Michaelis, Karen's mother is also of the sort who manages by creating default avenues of permission, that channels the lives around her into patterns that she considers appropriate. She eliminates from consideration that of which she does not approve:
On Sunday night, when - '
Mrs. Michaelis put a hand to her face. 'You know I never ask you to tell me everything, Karen.'
'On Sunday night when I came in, I really did see Ray's letter. I left it where it was because I felt bad, because I am not going to marry him.'
'I think you will want to, Karen.' said her mother

Karen's aunt Violet, her mother's sister has kept from Karen's parents the fact that she is very ill and is to undergo an operation that she may well die from. They live in Ireland and when at the start of the Past section Karen visits them her uncle Colonel Bill blurts it out but his wife says nothing. The complex pattern of secrets is another way of webbing down.

Mme. Fisher tells Leopold much more than he needs to know as a form of post-mortem oppression. But now I'm telling and here I am re-reading it already.

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