Sunday, 13 October 2013

Week Thirty-Eight - Jeanette

 Three To See The King by Magnus Mills (2001)
Recommended by Aaron

Aaron. Wonderful Aaron, Nottingham's best drummer (well, before he moved to London), and one of my very closest friends. We met at a project centred on youth justice a few years back. I always thought he looked interesting, right from the very first meeting. By degrees, we found out that we each liked good music; I told him about Seasons They Change, he told me about his bands, at first the post-rock Souvaris...

…and, more recently, the played-on-Radio-One synth majesty of Cantaloupe.

The last time I saw Cantaloupe play live, Aaron’s movement and sound transfixed me. I’d never seen or heard him drum like that before. He’s technically excellent, but there was something else there that night. It was catharsis, and it was electrifying. This is why we produce (or attempt to produce) any kind of art, right? We seek to work through the chaos in our heads, where feelings are apt to bang around like armour-plated fleas against the inside of our skulls.

Three To See The King is a brief book, and like last week’s Explorers Of The New Century, something of a comment on the intricacies of human behaviour masquerading as a relatively simple fable.

I live in a house built entirely from tin, with four tin walls, a roof of tin, a chimney and a door. Entirely from tin.

This is the unnamed narrator who, isolated but self-sufficient, lives alone on a plain ensconced in his rather spartan tin house. There are a few others around: the ‘half-friend half-nuisance’ Simon Painter, the nearest neighbour at two miles away; plus Steve Treacle and Philip Sibling, and a couple of others beyond that.

We rarely saw each other because we preferred it like that. So was my understanding of the arrangement anyway.

At the furthest point of all is the magnetic Michael Hawkins. This fellow has grander plans than simply living in his tin house; he wants to construct a canyon tin-house community. This is particularly painful to the narrator, because living in a canyon was once his very own dream. Now here was this Michael Hawkins, who everyone loved, actually doing what he himself always aspired to. How annoying is that? One by one, the plain’s diaspora cluster around Michael Hawkins, while extra people, new settlers, arrive to help with and live in the canyon.

‘Michael’s work never ceases!’ he said. ‘Day after day he conducts operations in that canyon! It’s already deeper and wider than any of us could have ever imagined, yet still he goes on.’

Three To See The King is not as cleverly structured as Explorers Of The New Century, but there’s something more human about it. It deals with jealousy and the hard, hard, task of standing alone when everyone else is flocking around what is easiest or what is shiniest. That it does this so successfully, without bitterness or solemnity, is a great credit to its author. It has much, also, to say about the unspoken tropes of community behaviour, and how taboos and structures invisibly formulate (and can strangle).

It’s not without its flaws. I found its female characters awful, especially the shrewish Mary Petrie. In this book men are the movers and shakers, and women, at best, support them and, at worst, hold them back. It seems Mills is another author like Michael Chabon who rather thinks women are a bit of a bother to construct properly, since I can’t really see that Mills created these female archetypes as any kind of comment on gender roles here (and, if he was, it is a seriously misjudged one).

A shorter entry this time, but that's no bad thing; it befits a shorter book. And, 'FYI', I have decided to abandon the alphabetical order aspect of my remaining books (it's already been disrupted once, and do something once, and you'll do it again). Love to Jude. Amen to she and I, and you, reading the fuck out of the rest of this year.