Friday, May 18, 2012

A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage


I don't often read novels about myself. Oh, sure, all novels are about me: I am Jane Eyre, David Copperfield, and Ishmael – not to mention Rochester and Micawber and Ahab – and so are you; but that's only because we all are. It's only once in decade, maybe, that I meet myself in a novel in a more personal way, so as to turn red and plus myself non: I didn't know anyone knew this about me. Tolstoy wrote a monstrous great novel about me, calling me Pierre Kirillovich Bezukhov; Trollope once gracefully eviscerated me under the name of Bertie Stanhope. But no one had written about my childhood and coming-of-age, which was a grimmer story than either Tolstoy or Trollope had in mind. Suppose you are a boy of ferocious will and intense desire. Suppose there is an early overwhelming loss, a hole where the center of your life should be. Suppose what is difficult for other people is easy for you, while what's easy for them is impossible: you can solve quadratic equations in your head, but you can't remember the names of the other kids in your classroom. Suppose the sensual world is overwhelming, full of beauties and patterns, while the social world is full of puzzling, trivial detail. Suppose you are awkward, clumsy, irritating: and yet, when whispering time comes, possessed of an eldritch capacity for persuasion. Suppose your own vulnerabilities are so different from other people's that you regularly wound, and are wounded, without anybody meaning any harm. How do you grow up? And how do you recover from a deep, precocious understanding of evil, which – for all your immaturity – marks you as old?

Well, by blundering about, and doing a fair amount of damage; by lots of dumb luck, and by the grace of strangers who are extraordinarily generous and kind. That's my story, and it's Pip Tatnall's too. I cared enough about the outcome of this novel that when I was twenty pages from the end I suddenly stopped, and put off finishing it for several days. I was afraid it would end badly, and I couldn't have stood that.

It doesn't end badly. But 'nuff said.

A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage

6 comments:

Lucy said...

That must be another reason I liked it so much...

Kathleen said...

Wow! About both stories.

marly youmans said...

Just rolled into Cullowhee and am about to collapse onto the nearest sofa but just had to say thanks! Lovely dual account.

I see you posted the whole saga as an Amazon comment and am very grateful, Monsieur Mole.

Jarrett said...

Wait, that's my story! Give it back! ;)

Zhoen said...

Cool, you got an author comment! Couldn't find this one at the library, so I picked up Catherwood. Read it last night. I will definitely be watching out for this author.

marly said...

Zhoen, glad you found Catherwood! It'll be coming back into print soonish.

I like to buy my library about books they ought to have, even if I own them--libraries can often use help in choosing.