Monday, December 31, 2007

Brother Odd in Lapland

Today, gray and rainy, the house peaceful, clean and still glowing with Christmas lights, I had the physical sensation of my heart centering itself in my body, my racing brain at rest. Maybe it was that everything extraneous has been put away: the house felt serene with the rugs vacuumed, tables polished, the Christmas reindeer in their place (see last year's post). The cats snoozed on the couch and the bed, full grown girls now, stretched out, paws and legs akimbo, in their fur-abouts, as Dylan Thomas once wrote. And I was in the kitchen, having polished off my two cappuccini under the sway of the still present scent of the chocolate chip cookies baked yesterday afternoon. The mixing bowls, still in the dish drain, did not stand a chance: lemon biscotti were a perfect excuse to turn the oven on again (the cats turned over on their backs, a display of belly fur). I made my way through the newspaper between batches, wrapped ham and cheese in pastry dough for savories for New Years, and so kept the oven going well through the real estate and magazine sections. If you count the paper, I read a lot. If I think of how I used to devour books, my overloaded brain and body have barely managed it. It really was the first day in a long while that I felt that I could breathe. A trip to the bookstore was in order.

Naturally, the minute I started the engine, rain and little shards of hail poured down on my car, but this only made the vision of sitting at home again with a new book and a cup of tea more appealing. I had a list, but, good news for those who think reading is going the way of the Smith Corona, the bookstore was out of stock when it came to a good number of my choices. And so I left with two, Let The Northern Lights Erase Your Name, by Vendela Vida, and Brother Odd, by Dean Koontz. The second is a stretch for me; I am not much for horror or mystery, and haven't read the other Odd Thomas books. A review from a while back had made it intriguing, and there it was. Home again, tea made, feet up, cats unchanged but for a reinterpretation of what was akimbo where, I settled in. Never one to have two books going at once, I did sample up to Chapter Three of Brother after giving the first twenty pages of Northern Lights a go. The latter's opening of landing in Helsinki in the winter drew me in (that is one of my fantasies), but not before I had a good, satisfying taste of the Koontz. Hours later and Let The Northern Lights... finished, I have realized that I quite inadvertently brought home two books in which the protagonists are chasing ghosts, whose lives are riddled by and with eidola* whose substance cannot be grasped for what they are, but lead the main characters in each toward the promise of being able to grasp them quite clearly, and, at least in the case of Vida's book, denies itself before her eyes. I shall have to finish the Koontz book (I am deep in, but need sleep and wanted to write, and must get up early to dip the biscotti in melted chocolate and start the fruitcake) before I can see how far I can/should take this aleatory opportunity for comparison, but so far, I find it quite compelling to think about them side by side: Vida's, for example, takes place mostly in the pure white landscape of northern Finland and Norway, then Lapland (Finmark), in blankness and muteness (the main character cannot speak the language), and all the while, or most of the while, since it is winter so far north, it is dark, and every time she lays her hands on something she thinks is real or true, it slips away from her. Brother Odd, as far as I have gotten, starts out chasing bodachs (slithering shadows that portend disaster and feed on doom) through the dark winter night of the monastery. Odd's quarry is not at all figurative: symbolic, but not figurative. He sees the dead in their unrest as well, truly mute and not held back by a language barrier. How strange, to have carried home two books where the characters crunch through the snow in the dark and cold night, chasing a glimpse of an apparition, fearful to find it, fearful not to. One may reply that this is an archetypal plot, and this I certainly know, but the fact that I ended up with these two books, both winter landscaped quests for, ultimately, identity, that is resonating with me, as my own quest of late has been haunted by winters or the longing for one.

[*The term eidolon (pl. eidola) is (Classical) Greek for apparition, an appearance, a phantom. It appears in Plato, and in Gorgias, the Greek sophist, who wrote the Encomium of Helen, and in other places. So far, the concept seems applicable to both novels.]

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