This book is perfect. The character that guides us (named Unwin) is a clerk, suddenly promoted to the level of detective and feeling lost, drowning, completely out of his element. He has no wish to be a detective and tries very hard to return to his position as clerk, where he has worked to become quite highly appreciated. However, in order to return to his clerkness, he must find the missing detective for whom he clerks. The further we delve into the case that forces him to continue in his promoted status, the more things become like a dream. And, in fact, it is in a dream that he meets with his missing detective, who tries to give him clues from his own bathtub. This scene is important, and will repeat later in the novel:
In this dream he had risen from bed and gone to take a bath, only to find the bathtub occupied by a stranger, naked except for his hat, reclining in a thick heap of soap bubbles. The bubbles were stained gray around his chest by the ashes from his cigar. His flesh was gray, too, like smudged newsprint, and a bulky gray coat was draped over the shower curtain. Only the ember of the stranger's cigar possessed color, and it burned so hot it made the steam above the tub glow red.
Unwin stood in the doorway, a fresh towel over his arm, his robe cinched tight around his waist. Why, he wondered, would someone go through all the trouble of breaking in to his apartment, just to get caught taking a bath?
The stranger said nothing. He lifted one foot out of the water and scrubbed it with a long-handled brush. When he was done, he soaped the bristles, slowly working the suds into a lather. Then he scrubbed the other foot.
Unwin bent down for a better look at the face under the hat brim and saw the heavy, unshaven jaw he knew only from newspaper photographs. It was the Agency operative whose case files were his particular responsibility.
“Detective Sivart,” Unwin said, “what are you doing in my bathtub?”
The novel follows the logic of a dream, which is to say that each thing that happens follows, makes sense, is logical, but not in any of the ways you would have expected, and only within an environment that has the vivid, perfect oddness of an almost-lucid dream. And that is what the novel is, it's a mixture of hard-boiled detective fiction and lucid dreaming. And then you, the reader, arrive at chapter 13. Chapter 13 is a jewel, and it makes everything that came before it more perfect. At the beginning of that chapter, there is described a liminal space, thus following from my usual blog entries, so I will quote it here. The chapter is titled “On Cryptography:”
A distance of perhaps fifty paces separated him from the chairs, one pink, the other pale green. Unwin felt drawn to the warmth of the electric light, to the languid music playing there, to the voice that could only have been Miss Greenwood's. It looked to him as though a cozy parlor had been set down in the middle of a cavern. He went toward it, feeling alone and insubstantial. He could not see his arms or his legs, could not see his own shoes. All he could see were the chairs, the lamp, and the phonograph. All he could hear was the music.
The floor was flat and smooth. A floor like that should have set his shoes squeaking, but they were muffled—by the darkness itself, Unwin thought. He kept his mouth shut tight. He did not want to let any of the darkness in.
He stopped at the edge of the blue rug and stood very still. Here was a boundary between worlds. In the one were chairs, and music, and light. In the other there were none of these things, nor even the words for chair, or music, or light.
The book has everything: creepy, shadowy criminals straight from an abandoned carnival, mesmerizing beauties, treachery, deceit, love, a haunting melody, and a fine mist of rain over it all. Finishing it is waking up from a dream and wishing you could dive back in.
Go and read it now!
|From Blogger Pictures|
Mia Araujo "Sleepwalker's Serenade"