Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Crimson Rooms by Katharine McMahan

I've got to say, the only reason I took this book home with me was the quote from another author on the front of the book. I've read two Kate Mosse novels (Labyrinth and Sepulchre) and thought, well, I'll know what to expect.

It was much, much better than that. I really looked forward to reading this book when I wasn't reading it, a must for finishing books when I also have an iPod to keep me busy on the train home.

It's about a woman named Evelyn in England right after World War I. The sense is that the war pretty much ruined an entire (male) generation; if it didn't kill them, then it certainly made them crazy. With the supply of men somewhat diminished, there's something of a slow panic among women; you might be a perfectly suitable and attractive woman, but it is very possible you will end up alone.

Evelyn is one of the first women lawyers, having to fight tooth and nail to be respected. One night, a woman shows up at her home (that she shares with her mother and grandmother) with a child in tow. Her late brother's child.

Its tricky because [spoilers!] I definitely called what happened to the woman (Meredith) with the child (called Edmund). It seemed so obvious to me that she had been raped by Evelyn's much worshiped dead brother (James). Meredith was so disinclined to talk about James that it felt like a red flashing warning. The confession comes out when they're both drunk at a party:
"Well, the truth is this. James fell in love with me, like so many of them did. We were ministering angels, after all, in our white veils and aprons. Those men emerged from the pain and the horror to find that we had created order and had quiet voices and gentle hands. We were women. But unlike the others your brother was greedy. It wasn't enough to look -- he had to touch, too. He grew hungrier and hungrier, pursued me, wouldn't leave me alone, refused to take no for an answer, found out my routine until, on the evening before he was due to go back, he came looking for me with one idea in his head."
Evelyn misunderstands this, She says that Meredith must have given James some sort of signal, she must have done something to cause it. Meredith says,
"He regarded my resistance as an obstacle, simply, to overcome."
For a novel set in the 1920s, I thought this was fairly well done. Meredith continually says that she cared for him as she cared for all the men that she nursed during the war, but that didn't mean that she wanted him to rape her, to terrorize her.

Overall, this book was much better than I expected. I appreciated the delicacy with which the author dealt with the emotions of every character.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Wolf Parade - Yulia [Song about Space]


 So the new Wolf Parade album EXPO 86 leaked, and I'd been playing it off and on all weekend. I knew I liked the way "Yulia" sounded, but Wolf Parade can be hard to understand. (Case in point: rather than "Yulia" my boyfriend thought that were singing, "Too young! Too young!")

I didn't really hear the words until this morning on my commute, and I'm not so clear on all of them, but the ones I am clear on: wow.

Its a song about a astronaut (cosmonaut? Yulia is an Eastern European/Russian name, as for Julia. The Ukrainian PM is named Yulia) singing back to his love on earth. The song begins with the send off for the flight (apologies if lyrics are wrong, see above explanation of WP being hard to understand....and this isn't a full collection of the lyrics, but just the most pertinent/hearable to me):

"I was up there floating with them
and you know that I was gone
The radio sings a patriot song
as the devil gets you low

We were standing on the platform
The favorite sons in history"

This is a pretty big deal. They're already national heroes, just for advancing the space program. You know, until:

"The flip one switch at mission control
and I'm never coming home

Its unclear to me whether this was intentional on the space program's part (they fuck up and pull the plug to cover it up) or if it was just that nothing else could be done (no way to save them, so might as well cut your losses).

"I'm standing here
Drifting alone
and my heartbeats slow
and I hope they bring my body back

Doubly heartbreaking. I don't know if its just because I love being earthbound, but the idea of drifting in space, dying and all alone in all that space is terrible. And then knowing, as you are dying, that you'll be alone alone, drifting, for the rest of eternity.

The next is directly put to Yulia:

"So when they turn the camaras on you
Baby please don't speak of me
Point up to the dark above you
As they edit me from history

I'm ten million miles from my comfortable home
And space is very cold

So this guy goes from being the favorite son of his country to being written out of history because of the mission's failure. And gets to die alone for his trouble.

The next part just piles on the heartbreak"

"There's nothing out here
Nothing out here
nothing out
nothing out here
nothing out here"

This is the best song featuring space in a while. 

So, is it significant that her name is Yulia instead of Julia? Is this story more believable if its the Russians doing this? And maybe the failed manned missions from the US didn't get completely covered up, but we definitely don't remember them the way we remember Buzz Aldrin (of Dancing with the Stars fame, now!) or Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon. Who remembers the names of the astronauts who died in Apollo 1? Its not a cover up, its just the way recent history remembers.