Tuesday, August 21, 2012

100 Books #77 - Gene Wolfe's THERE ARE DOORS

Well, if anyone was going to pull off a third person unreliable narrator right, it was going to have to be Gene Wolfe, and yes, he did it, brilliantly. Which is to say that my brain hurts kind of a lot right now from being turned inside out, marked with chalk, tried on by a crazy man to see if it will fit, altered by a seamstress and worn in a blizzard by... well, is it the same crazy man? Most likely. But then, is it the same crazy man in the same crazy world?

There Are Doors' protagonist, occasionally known as A.C. Pine or Mr. Green but most often simply as "He"* is either a mental patient in the sweetly harmless tradition of the guy in the bunny slippers in Twelve Monkeys, or a voyager between only slightly dissimilar dimensions via the titular doors, or both. Nor is his love interest, Lara/Laura/Lora a woman with a reliable nature and identity. Nor is the maternal owner of the Italian restaurant they frequent -- a place that, incidentally, seems to be in both worlds, as he demonstrates with a cash register experiment: when he breaks a bill, his change is in the "real" world's currency, while his lunch companion gets change native to that other world.

And, in that other world, it is apparently possible to get fat sheafs of high denomination real world currency, sold for spirit money in a Chinese junk shop for pennies on the dollar. And buildings and places are similar in that world, but have the heavy analog quality of the 1950s, with the exception of the cars. And, most importantly (or not), men do not long survive after having sex, dying off like drone bees; Lara, we are told, left the sort-of-named protagonist behind after living with him for just a few days because she couldn't bear to watch him die.

And the pronouns get confusing, because there is a he protagonist and she object whom he chases, neither named very often, interacting with other, pronoun-denominated hes and shes, lending a funky extra layer of ambiguity to a novel that, let's face it, didn't really need one. But that's Gene Wolfe for you. Really, the man drives me mad.

For my part I imagine Gene Wolfe having obsessively read Doctor Zhivago and Confessions of a Crap Artist and watched Invasion, that fantastic old Argentinian film written by Jorge Luis Borges and Aldolfo Bioy Cesares, just as I imagine China Mieville, decades later (There Are Doors dates back to the 1980s), poring obsessively over this novel as he wrote The City & The City. I'm probably very wrong in both notions, but they did keep occurring to me as I read.

I wonder what I'll think of next time -- for there will be a next time. There must, always, with Gene Wolfe.

*But not in that H.P. Lovecraft way.

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