the land across


One of these days I’m going to read a Gene Wolfe book properly–read it for the first time to appreciate the lines, then again, immediately, to see if I can figure out how the engine works. (I tried this once with PEACE, but got derailed.) Probably not this time, though, not because I didn’t enjoy THE LAND ACROSS but because reading time is precious, and there are so many books. So for now I’m just making a few notes on things to watch for again on reread.

  1. Obviously ages are meant to be important clues to something or another. My main insight on this is unsolved but, I think, important: Wolfe is at pains to let us know that Grafton is in his mid-twenties max, in the age of iPhones, meaning he’s substantially younger than me. But, as several Goodreads reviews gripe about, his diction is archaic (“kept my yap shut,” “swell,” “bet the rent,” “dope them out,” “smart off,” &c.). For a prose stylist like Wolfe, this can’t possibly be unintentional. But I freely admit I don’t have any idea what it means. (Is the whole thing a translation from German, or one of Grafton’s other languages? What would that mean?)
  2. Coming off thinking of PEACE, you can’t help but notice that the layout of Puraustays and the capital is an awful lot like a cemetery–no straight streets, a strip of trees and flowers around each building, &c. I’ll have to go back and pay attention to this. (The description of City Hall on p. 14 is notably weird.)
  3. The (were?)wolves of Puraustays have a decent shot at being some sort of representative of Wolfe himself–he’s done this before, for sure in THE FIFTH HEAD OF CERBERUS and I think elsewhere as well. Again, though, I’d have to go back to figure out the significance of this.
  4. How did he figure out the head of the Unholy Way? (This might be mentioned fairly explicitly in the text, I just don’t remember.)
  5. What’s with Grafton’s dad/the third border guard? What about his mom? What does JAKA stand for?
  6. Early in the book, Kleon beats up Grafton handily. Toward the end, the tables are turned. What changed?

Plenty more to think about, for sure. This is (one of the reasons) why I love Wolfe. One day, maybe I’ll be smart enough to read him.

If you’re not familiar with Wolfe and this has whetted your interest, maybe check out this NPR article on the book. For people not heavily into genre, I think this and most of his recent books–AN EVIL GUEST, THE SORCERER’S HOUSE, HOME FIRES–would be good introductions to Wolfe, as would PEACE; for people who are pretty comfortable getting thrown into deep water, just go straight for the Book of the New Sun (a four-book series starting with THE SHADOW OF THE TORTURER, sometimes collected in a two-volume series starting with SHADOW & CLAW).

One thought on “the land across

  1. Oh, man. Another Wolfe book I frustratingly have no time to read, much less properly read. Book of the New Sun was the first piece of fiction I read that actually made me want to slow down to understand exactly what was happening on the page, line by line, word for word, and then go back and read it again immediately. It was as though an English professor had programmed a “close-reading-out-of-sheer-curiosity” algorithm that was executed upon opening the first page. Why is BotNS not part of the 20th century canon?

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