Sunday Salon: On Mourning an Author

Sunday, February 6, 2011

What would you do to assuage your grief if a favorite author died (unexpectedly, at least to you), and her last novel in a beloved series featured a cliffhanger ending?

Diana Norman, who (as Ariana Franklin) wrote medieval mysteries featuring a rare female autopsist who is sent to England by the King of Sicily to help Henry II deal with various forensic crises, has died, alas, and it isn't clear whether her Mistress of the Art of Death series will ever be finished.  I feel a bit queasy about one thing: is the horrifying sadness I feel actually about the author or about her characters?

(I want to object, by the by, in the most strenuous fashion, to the headline and first sentence of her obituary, on the grounds of feminism, literary respect, grammar, and personal dignity.  No one should be identified in death primarily in relationship to someone else, especially a spouse.  This is particularly irksome because Norman/Franklin wrote feminist historical fiction, and her heroine firmly believes that marriage isn't worth the sacrifice of her calling that it would entail.)

Further complication: I am one book behind in the series, and the last book that I read ends in a moment of at least partial resolution for a longstanding romance but also in personal sacrifice for both of the characters.  Should I read the last book, suspecting that it will take me from a readerly position of partially discontented closure  to one of terrible uncertainty about the characters' futures?

This is actually a problem for another day - right now I am going into my twelfth hour in the office since 5 p.m. yesterday (that's right - I spent all Saturday night at the office.  I'm the life of the party.), and won't be getting much reading done in the near future besides Beckett and Shakespeare (which I'm teaching this week), and Lady Audley's Secret (which I am leading a discussion about in book group on Tuesday night.  Only 330 pages to go between now and then!).  Apart from that, it's just me and Mt. Grademore this fine Sunday evening....

An Abundance of Ariels

Saturday, February 5, 2011

As many of you know, the real name (I like to think of it more as a secret identity) of the blogger known as Sycorax Pine is "Ariel."  Long, long ago, when my parents had settled on the fact that if they had a boy, they would name him either "Orfeo" or "Rafael" (I'm not kidding.  It was a near miss.), they decided on "Ariel" for a girl.  My mother was thinking fondly of the Shakespearean character and my father of the British motorcycle. 

"Why are you naming your daughter after a television antenna?" asked their friends in Wisconsin.  My parents shrugged them off, confident in the originality of their naming.  Neither of them had an inkling that about a decade later, Disney would make a mockery of their desire to find an unusual name for their child by sparking a new generation of shell-clothed, fish-befriending Ariels and Arielles.

But I have to admit that I have a soft spot for books with heroines named Ariel.  So the other day I ordered a mystery (the ominously titled bit of internal rhyme that is Burying Ariel) about Canadian academics with the following plot:
Ariel Warren was a popular lecturer  among the students and staff, and her violent death shocks - and divides - Regina's small and fractious academic community.
This sort of reminds me of the time I nearly rented a horror movie only because it was set on my tiny urban street.  Suddenly I thought, "Wait: wouldn't I like to be able to continue living alone on my street?".  Back it went on the shelf.

Of course, it wasn't the first time I'd made a purchase like this.  My friend C gently reminded me of another incident:
And having acquired Burying Ariel, will you actually read it?  Because you might recall that you ask me to read The End of Mr. Y for you because you weren't ready for the adventures of Ariel Manto, "oversexed renegade academic, [who] stumbles across a cursed text, which takes her into the Troposphere, a dimension where she can enter the consciousness, undetected, of other beings."
OK: That sounds pretty awesome, but in my defense, I was in the midst of finishing my dissertation at the time, and I seem to recall that the book jacket of Mr. Y strongly implied that the inciting incident of the novel would be the sudden disappearance of Ariel's adviser, mid-project.  It was too anxious to be borne. 

And let's never forget that I keep a book called Sex and the Single Witch on my shelf because its cover promised me it would tell this tale: 
When ice hockey coach JT becomes the first person to buy one of Ariel Watson's paintings, her work is suddenly the hottest ticket in town.  And JT is more than an art lover - he's a lover.  Trouble is, since falling for him, Ariel hasn't been able to produce one decent piece of work.  What's a witch to do?
I begin to wonder why so many of these fictional Ariels are artists and academics and why, furthermore, they are so frequently experiencing obstacles and blockages in their work processes? (I think we can all agree that death is the ultimate obstacle to doing your job.)  And are there other fictional Ariels I should be adding to my collection?  

Coffee or cholera?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

There's been a bit of a lull here at Sycorax Pine.  Largely because everything has gone to hell in that proverbial handbasket I keep around for times just like this.

How to explain what has happened over the last ten days?

Well, let me put it in this context: my parents went off on a delightful, spontaneous trip to Costa Rica to celebrate my mother's birthday.  Normally we talk every few days on the phone (since we live in different countries), and when they ask how I'm doing I say something terribly prosaic about Mt. Grademore, or teaching prep, or my feeble gym-going.  When they arrived back from Costa Rica, this is the conversation we had instead:

How was the trip???

Mère/Père Sycorax: 
[I had roughly the same conversation with both parents at separate times that day]
Glorious.  When we woke up every morning, 
they'd left a thermos of coffee outside our door, 
and we'd wander outside, coffee in hand, 
to watch the monkeys fight with the tropical birds in the trees....

That sounds amazing.

Mère/Père Sycorax:
How was your week?

Well.... I crashed my car in a snow storm, fell hard not once but twice in public, 
screwed up my neck in a way that makes it hard to drive or sleep, 
became embroiled unwittingly in a major workplace conflict, 
and I think I've agreed to buy a house that has a dug well and a cesspool.  
Do you think I'm going to die of cholera?

Mère/Père Sycorax:

It never rains but it pours, eh?