Late as usual… sorry folks, I plead real life interfering on this one, it’s been a rough week, and I apologise if my thoughts are somewhat scattershot. Here goes..!
1. In the chapter “A Curious Tale for Countess Amberglass” we learn of the tradition of the night tea in Camorr. I found that not so much fantastical as realistic – how about you?
The best thing about Scott Lynch’s writing is that the settings may be fantastical, but the people are so real you can practically smell their sweat. I think it’s entirely plausible for ladies to have tea and bitch about their men – in fact I’ve sat through a great deal of exactly that in my life. Indeed, by the age of eight or nine I was deeply familiar with the long-held family tradition of the Bitching of the Sprouts, in which the women of my mother’s clan would sit around the kitchen table on Christmas morning, dissecting an enormous heap of sprouts and their husbands. Each motley collection of unsavoury items was handled with equal dispassion and viciousness, although they usually reseved the knives for use on the sprouts. What exactly this did to a developing male psyche is hard to quantify, but I’ve never been able to cut a cross into the stem of a sprout without feeling a twinge of sympathy.
In fact at the time I read it, this particular scene made me think about the Bechdel Test; personally I think the test itself is an idea which has its limitations, but at the same time I think this book passes because Doña Salvara is there to shop a con man to the chief intelligencer. And that’s so despite the fact the situation she’s in is one in which relationships are normally the topic of the hour; she’s specifically not interested in complaining about her emotional life. She confirms this more than adequately later on, of course, but I was already pretty much settled on the issue after reading this.
The other thing that was fantastic was the cake, another wonderful instance of Lynch’s food obsession – and the painstaking description of the ingredients in its various sections by the attending servant. Although Doña Vorchenza herself is the real highlight of the scene for me; she’s definitely my favourite character in this book, possibly more so than Locke. I always love feisty old ladies, and her line about flicking the miniature alchemical lights from the cake over the balcony like schoolgirls practically had me cheerleading.
2. When Jean meets with what will become the Wicked Sisters for the first time, the meeting is described very much like how people feel when they find their true work or home. Agree? Disagree? Some of both?
Well it was inevitable, wasn’t it – we’ve seen him with them, and given that Lynch specifically mentions that these are weighted and balanced for an adolescent, they’re not “what will become the Wicked Sisters”, they’re just his first set of hatchets. I got the impression of someone finding his medium, more than anything – finding a tool he’s really comfortable with.
3. Salt devils. Bug. Jean. The description is intense. Do you find that description a help in visualizing the scene? Do you find yourself wishing the description was occasionally – well – a little less descriptive?
No. I love Lynch’s descriptions – not a detail left out, but not a single excessive word left in. I forget which dead Greek beardie it was who said that a work of art is complete not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to remove – but I think this is a case in point. The fight scenes in this book make my heart race, where usually my writer’s mind is just coasting along at the back making critical observations and spoiling the fun for everyone like it normally does. I love a writer who can smack that hypercritical sensibility out of its tram tracks and really make the scene jump out and enmesh me. Lynch can; every single action scene in this was like one of the characters leaping out of the book, shoving me against the wall and demanding to know what the hell he should do next (not that I think Locke would have been very taken with some of my more instinctive responses to the thought!). One that really stands out is the second time we visit Locke and Jean’s trip to the Salvaras’ mansion and see how they take down Conte; it was picture-perfect in my head. I often have little clear sense of how a fight proceeds other than who hit who, but I could practically feel the gloomy, high-ceilinged space and the sense of vertigo as Locke and Jean look down on him beneath. That’s another one I’m filing away in the “scenes to analyse in nauseating detail to improve your own writing” bank.
4. This section has so much action in it, it’s hard to find a place to pause. But…but.. oh, Locke. Oh, Jean. On their return to the House of Perelandro, their world is turned upside down. Did you see it coming?
In specific? No. In general? Absolutely. I remember feeling a sort of horrible satisfaction when I turned the page; I’d been realising more and more clearly that the world at the start of the book is the bubble of perfection that has to burst, and here was the fragile film exploding; that moment when something beautiful reduces to a fleck of liquid spinning towards the ground. Bug’s resistance, and his youthful foolishness, were heart-aching – it was such a clockwork of inevitability, in the way well-drawn tragedies are. All of the events in it are avoidable, and yet so inescapably natural a consequence of the characters’ natures and flaws. It left me with a strange sense of satisfaction – not at Locke and Jean’s predicament, but at the sheer power of the story turning underneath their world. Resolution is something modern media (I’m looking at you, Hollywood) too often deprives us of in the name of sequelisation – but it’s here in no uncertain terms.
5. Tavrin Callas’s service to the House of Aza Guilla is recalled at an opportune moment, and may have something to do with saving a life or three. Do you believe Chains knew what he set in motion? Why or why not?
No, I think Chains was a competent and cautious man who prepared his Gentleman Bastards for every eventuality, including the case in which the excrement should make resounding contact with the ventilation apparatus. An eventuality they themselves failed to foresee, being as they are twenty-something and pretty much convinced of their own invulnerability. I don’t see anything mystical here, just a smart, long-sighted, thoroughly corrupt old man. We already know that at least two of the Gentleman Bastards have been sent to more than one temple; clearly, Chains planned to maximise their chances of success if they needed to bluff.
6. As Locke and Jean prepare for Capa Raza, Dona Vorchenza’s remark that the Thorn of Camorr has never been violent – only greedy and resorting to trickery – comes to mind again. Will this pattern continue?
Insofar as it can in the context, I think. Locke’s going to have to step up to the demands of the situation at some point, and the way the situation is headed, that’s likely to be messy…
7. Does Locke Lamora or the Thorn of Camorr enter Meraggio’s Countinghouse that day? Is there a difference?
No, I think it’s Locke. There is simultaneously a huge difference and no difference between Locke and the Thorn; in one sense, the Thorn of Camorr is a folk hero with mythical powers whose reputation is not really of his own creation and Locke is merely an unusually audacious crook – but in the other, they are one and the same since it’s Locke’s extraordinary talent and chutzpah which created such exploits for the people of Camorr to embroider over their ale.
I will say that I absolutely loved the Meraggio’s scene from start to finish; for me it was one of the key moments in the book. This was Locke stripped bare, deprived of all his mechanisms and supporters, relying on what it is that makes him Locke. And that, I think, is the first time in the book that we really see his true nature in the flesh. We’ve been told about it all along, told what an astonishing crook both the young and adult Lockes are, but we’ve never yet seen him operate without a vast array of props and supporting cast. The moment that really made me produce unmanly shrieks and torture the springs of my malodorous leather sofa was when the first thing we see him try is the cautious, conservative, minimal approach – exactly what Chains would have taught him to trust – and it doesn’t work out. It’s uninspired – the stakes at Meraggio’s are huge and the people are watchful. Caution is no competition, here. The game has changed. But Locke is stubborn – a true Camorri, perhaps; he persists, tries again, and stumbles on the one vital connection that makes his true gift fire. The con he constructs is so spectacular as to be unthinkable – and that is precisely what makes it credible to the victims. Insight, colossal chutzpah, and intimate knowledge of the people and the situation; Meraggio is clever and cautious, but the chaos in Camorr’s underworld is the unknown factor Locke puts to the perfect use. I really can’t describe how utterly satisfying I found that whole scene – take the rules away, shake Locke’s whole golden world to its foundations, and watch him bootstrap his criminal career from nothing, using only what he carries in his mind. Fantastic.