I’ve returned from the sunny climes of California to snowy (but very pretty) Calgary, and began reading Barnaby Rudge today. Between that and the end of The Old Curiosity Shop I took a brief stopover in the twentieth century and read The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks. When I found it in a used book store a month or so ago I was intrigued by the quotation on the back cover:
Two years after I killed Blyth I murdered my young brother Paul, for quite different reasons than I’d disposed of Blyth, and then a year after that I did for my young cousin Esmerelda, more or less on a whim.
What’s not to like?
The book itself is gripping: the sixteen year old (and ritually sadistic) Frank prepares for the return home of his escaped and insane brother, and it certainly was a change of pace from the journey you and I have been taking. I quite enjoyed the read. But it was the reviewers’ comments at the front of the book that were most interesting, running the gamut from “…an outstandingly good read” (The Financial Times) to “one of the most disagreeable pieces of reading that has come my way in quite a while….” (Sunday Telegraph). Most reviewers decried the violence and gore, and maybe when the book was published in 1984 it stood out, particularly for its depiction of animal cruelty. Or maybe it really is that horrific and I should be disturbed that I wasn’t more disturbed…
Maybe they were so offended because it’s the book’s hero (or antihero) who’s perpetrating the violence, because as you and I know, literary baddies like Sykes and Quilp are excellent literary forerunners of Frank, themselves kicking dogs and demonstrating their unpleasant control of those weaker than themselves. Or maybe I’m more desensitized than I realize, and after having read American Psycho (waaay more disturbing than Banks), read and watched Dexter Morgan chop up other serial killers, and even gleefully stabbed some perfectly innocent redcoats myself in Assassin’s Creed III this weekend, the mental imagery of mice being stuffed into shuttlecocks and sent catapulting to their doom seems more blackly humorous than downright loathsome.
I hope that after that confession you and I can still be friends. I promise I’m quite a nice person. And anyway, with Sykes, Squeers, Ralph Nickleby, and Quilp under your belt, and prison riots ahead, I get the feeling that you’re no stranger to getting in touch with the darker side of yourself.
Let’s explore Barnaby’s world, shall we?