Friday, July 6, 2012

Mercury by Anna Kavan

I thought from what was said about Anna Kavan's Mercury that it would be litfic uncomfortably fitted into the fantasy genre. This was largely confirmed when I saw that Doris Lessing had written the foreword, and what she had said about the book. Litfic and I seem to have an uneasy relationship. I generally don't like it, I'm getting the feeling I must be some sort of literary philistine.

I guess you could classify Mercury as fantasy, the people who wrote the list did. There's a rather dreamy unreal quality about the world the characters wander through, and I don't think it's ever actually confirmed that any of what they are seeing is real, or if in fact they are real. The man sized lemurs on the tropical island of Indris certainly aren't real, although they may have once existed.

The writing is beautiful. Anna Kavan chose her words carefully, and she paints a vivid picture with them. That unfortunately for me was where the good ended. It's easy to read, and a great example of how to write descriptively, however this is a novel (albeit quite short at 136 pages) and I always have a better relationship with a novel when it has a plot and characters that are not only real and believable, but have reasons for doing what they do. Mercury doesn't have those.

The two totally unbelievable protagonists Luke and the ethereal Luz see each other, fall in love, but never actually get together. Luz winds up marrying Luke's unstable and violent artist friend Chaz, who she later leaves. They spend their time wandering through this beautifully described landscape heading towards Indris for no discernible reason other than because the author seemed to like writing about the tropical setting and it's noisy lemurs. Eventually they find themselves in the one place at the one time and have sex. Finis. And this is literature? Okay.

I wouldn't recommend reading anything like it, because I wouldn't want to read anything else like it. Luke's way of behaving, and his lack of reason for doing things did remind me of Russell Hoban's equally inexplicable and plotless Kleinzeit. Kavan's best known work is the science fiction Ice, which Brian Aldiss chose as his favourite work of 1967. I haven't read it, so can't comment, but I know I didn't think a great deal of Aldiss' Malacia Tapestry so may not agree with his assessment.

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