Sunday, March 05, 2006

Maurice Gee - Blindsight

I really do not know how this has happened: Maurice Gee is reputed to be New Zealand's finest writer, Blindsight is his sixteenth book, and yet this is the first I have read by him. Sure, I have seen two films based on his novels (In My Father's Den and Fracture) but that is not the same thing. Maybe if I was more familiar with his work, the end would not have come as such a surprise.

Alice and Gordon Ferry are siblings, they grow up in the 1930's and 1940's in "Loomis", a fictional town in West Auckland closely based on Henderson. I have no idea why he uses the disguise: as I read the details of this twon, I became more and more convinced it must have been Henderson and all the other locations in the novel are real. Hell, even "Gordon" is real: it is no spoiler to say that through the vagaries of life, he ends up homeless on the streets of Wellington as we are told this in the first two pages. Several of his biographic details are borrowed from a man known as "bucket man", who died in about 2003.

In the meantime, Alice has become famous in her own academic discipline - mycology - and has been very happily married to Neville. There is one central event, however, which has a huge impact on the novel: she has a very unsatisfactory and obsessive affair with Richie. When she learns just how unsatisfactory, she falls apart, for months. The novel is really about her life, with particular focus on her relationship with Gordon. At the same time she was mired in depression, he was going through troubles of his own, from which he never recovered. For many years, she has no idea where he is or what he is doing: when a friend of her father's tells her he has become bucket man, she moves to Wellington to at least be near him. It is of some comfort to her, although he is never aware she is there - not that she doesn't try.

I thought the part where she tracks his movements and finds out how he is living was particularly moving. I think the temptation would be strong to impose one's own standards on him, put him in a home somewhere - either as an explosion of a do-gooder mentality or to save oneself from embarrassment. Alice, however, listens to what she is told by those who know him in his new incarnation (where his only vocabulary is "hello" and "thank you" and he keeps his eyes glued to the ground): terribly sad, but she recognises he has a delicate balance which would only be disturned by people meddling.

The other key player is Adrian - a cool dude who has a job as barista in a funky Cuba Street cafe and plays the double-bass:
He has a huge stringed instrument: a double-bass. It beats like a heart, sometimes doing just enough to keep alive, at other times excited by love or lust or hunger of its own capabilities. Adrian plays his instrument well. He tells me the bass - such an improbable beast - can't stand alone for very long. Its job, he says, is more like stitching, even when it beats hard and fast. It fastens things together, the sort of instrument, I think, Gordon may have chosen.
Adrian has been looking for Alice for a while: she is Gordon's sister; he is his grandson who made a promise to his dying father to track Gordon down to pass on his son's love. His presence in Alice's life is what leads to her recounting this tale and her ultimate story - I couldn't believe this had been withheld from us until the last couple of pages.


Blogger Max said...

Isn't he one of the Beeges?

8:00 AM  
Blogger limegreen said...

Seeing as I got given (I think) this book for Christmas, you'll excuse the fact that I didn't read to the bottom of the post!

As a slight further digression, this isn't the first foray of "Loomis", and I think almost all of his books are set in similar "fictional alter-egos". Actually, if I recollect, a lot of Margaret Mahy's young adult stuff is similar. Perhaps it's a hangover from the days when New Zealand wasn't seen fit as a location for a novel?

I read most of Gee's young person stuff (Half-men of O, the Fire-raiser etc.) as a lad, but re-discovered Gee in a new light when reading ''Going West'' for ENGL125. Possibly also set in Loomis(??), but it's fantastic, and I've been slowly(ish) reading through the rest of his work ever since.

I haven't even had time to read the book I got for christmas. Fuck.

4:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A lot of his books start out in some town/location called "Loomis".. It's just something he does.

12:50 AM  

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