Wednesday, November 5, 2014

"Abroad isn't at all what it was."

The Towers of Trebizond was a Newberry Book Sale purchase that almost wasn't. I picked it up and put it down, and picked it up, rinse, repeat. On the one hand, the camel on the cover is pretty cool-looking; on the other, sigh, that woman is drinking from a Union Jack teacup. Union Jack teacups make me feel a bit tired.

It turned out that my ambivalence about the cover was a premonition. The book follows Laurie, the narrator, a young woman who accompanies her Aunt Dot and Father Hugh Chantry-Pigg on a mission to Turkey to convert Muslims to high-church Anglicanism and introduce the women to freedom, education, and hats. (This was published in the early 1950s, if that description makes you raise an eyebrow.) It's relentlessly comic and intensely Anglican. Let us take as our text:
A group of inhabitants stood by the road as we drove up; they were dark and sad, and they may have been Rogues, but I thought they looked more like those obscure, dejected, maladjusted, and calamity-prone characters who come into Tenebrae, such as Aleph, Teth, Beth, Calph, Jod, Ghimel, Mem, and the rest, and they sounded as if they were talking in that afflicted strain that those characters talk in, and saying things like 'he has brought me into darkness and not into light', 'he has compassed me with gall and labour', 'he has built against me round about, that I may not get out, he has upset my paths', and ' my eyes have failed with weeping, my bowels are disturbed, my liver is poured out', and so on, till all the lights go out and there is nothing but the dark.
Laurie speaks/is written in these long, run-on sentences that convey naivety or something and it got old for me fast. I think she's meant to be sort of "daughter of the house" age, i.e. between 17 and 21? but I don't know, it just bugged me. And then while I get that Tenebrae joke (a) I feel I deserve a gold star for getting it, and (b) it's, like, twice as long as it should be.

I could see the humor on the page but it just didn't connect. Sentences like this:
Father Chantry-Pigg always spoke as if he had just parted from the Byzantines, and was apt to sigh when he mentioned them, though, as aunt Dot pointed out, he had missed them by five centuries.
 make me feel sure that there are people out there for whom this is a cherished book, The Funniest Book On Earth, but for me every recognizable foible or outlandish personality quirk got instantly beaten to death and then ground into powder with Laurie's long sentences and slow-moving paragraphs.

You will not, at this point, be surprised if I say that I got to page 53, mostly by skimming, and then remembered with relief the concept of giving a book fifty pages to grab your interest. I'm disappointed, though, because I was planning to look super smart by making a connection between this book and Scoop. Maybe someday I'll be in a better mood and come back to this, but for now I am moving on.

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