Last night I finished The Secret Commonwealth (Vol 2 of Pullman’s follow-up series to His Dark Materials) and sent it back (virtually, and virtuously) to the NYPL. By now, another patient reader has begun this dark and compelling tale. I noted parallels to current events (I’ll reveal no more than that), and had a brief moment of “That too?!?” about three-quarters of the way through. But then I remembered that I’m doing something similar with my own WIP, and just let myself fall deeper into Lyra’s world.
As for my WIP — writing is progressing well, but slowly, and I’ll be on forced hiatus (for a pleasant reason) for a couple of weeks. But I’ve mapped out all the remaining chapters, many of which are already drafted — so maybe this draft is 70% finished. What’s even more exciting, with the help of my daughter, I finally filled in the last plot-hole. It was a big one, so I’m greatly relieved to have that repair in place.
And now I can get back to Moby-Dick. But before I start the next chapter (#68, so I’m past the halfway point), I just want to say a few quick words about Ishmael as unreliable narrator. In my last post, I warned everyone to watch out, because he makes up things. His chapter on the crow’s-nest, for instance, sounds like academic research but is, in fact, mostly humbug. But Ishmael has a clever sense of humor about it all — a bit like winking at the reader, especially with his footnotes — and is easy to forgive.
As for those footnotes, read them. They’re important. Melville, as Ishmael, is building a complex picture of American ingenuity, a mix of barbarity and inventiveness. Whalers, over the centuries, have invented all kinds of gadgets to ease the task of strip-mining the ocean’s wealth — ambergris, spermaceti, oil, meat — but there’s no avoiding the brutality of the process. You can move it below deck, but it’s still a bloody, stinky, cruel, dangerous mess.
A long time ago, a friend returning from a year in Norway brought me a can of whale meat. I kept that can for years, an object lesson of a strange sort. By the time I got rid of it (about the mid 1980s, I think), it had evolved from an interesting piece of art into a terrible reminder of what living on this planet demands.
Dear readers: try to make good choices.