I’m so sorry about the two week pause between book club updates, here. Kind of had a busy last two weeks, but now it’s time to do the opposite of what you’re usually here for and talk about some good literature. You can still TOTALLY CONTRIBUTE to the discussion on chapters 1-4 and on chapters 5-8, because this is an internet book club on the internet and is all frozen in time at different points so you can follow along at your own pace, whenever! Isn’t that CRAZY?
All the magic that the Hempstocks do in this chapter are kind of simultaneously things I like and dislike about the story because it feels like both a brilliant strength and a dumb weakness. After the last four terrifying chapters with Ursula Monkton, where our narrator has been completely powerless, suddenly he’s with the Hempstocks who can fix pretty much any problem with magic we haven’t seen before. And I’m really not sure how I feel about this, because I feel like the constant deus ex machina-ing is cheap storytelling that I should complain about, but the effect it creates is pretty brilliant. Far and away my favorite thing about this novel is how captures the contradiction of childhood that it’s a time when someone can be completely powerless (like with Ursula Monkton) or completely safe from danger (like with the Hempstocks).
The way they suddenly (mostly) fix his problem with his parents being furious with him followed immediately by them getting the wormhole out of his foot is a good example of this. It was so awesome how they just cut out his evening, like from time. Like when he’s with the three Hempstocks, there’s just no harm that can come to him. But he can’t stay with the Hempstocks all the time. It’s all a pretty cool way to capture these feelings of childhood.
She passed me the scrap of fabric on the table that she had cut. “Here’s your evening,” she said. “You can keep it, if you wish. But if I were you, I’d burn it.”
How cool is that?
The explanation that Ursula Monkton is “just trying to give everyone what they want” is a weirdly sufficient explanation for what she is for me, like if we were simply told what kind of creature she is and what they’re like just doesn’t seem to convey horror as well as a morally ambiguous motivation. The way this book defines things in terms like this is one of its strengths:
“What do you think Ursula Monkton is scared of?”
“Dunno. Why do you think she’s scared of anything? She’s a grown-up, isn’t she? Grown-ups and monsters aren’t scared of things.”
“Oh, monsters are scared,” said Lettie. “That’s why they’re monsters. And as for grown-ups…” She stopped talking, rubbed her freckled nose with a finger. Then, “I’m going to tell you something important. Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.“
THIS. THIS IS JUST SO GOOD. One of the most important things about growing up is just kind of realizing that everyone is just a person (this is especially meaningful for me right now, having graduated and looking for a job or my next internship or something, and seeing the mind-boggling variety of stuff that people do, and just kind of remembering that everyone is just a person always just kind of trying to just be in a way that they hope makes sense to them). The way this gets worded so concisely and so seemingly contradictory here is fantastic.
The pre-confrontation with Ursula is pretty intriguing. It’s interesting how her nudity is (at least the way I see it) used to heighten her contrast with childhood. It’d be real awkward to make a film adaptation of this, though. Last time I thought about that was with Ender’s Game. Remember how much goddamn nudity there is in that book? What the hell is the film adaptation going to look like?
It’s really interesting how Ursula gives up, but then gives up on giving up in her desperation. And, again, how Lettie – in contrast – can just lay down the motherfucking law.
“All of your chances are used up,” said Lettie, as if she were telling us that the sky was blue.
The power dynamics are a little confusing though, and I’m not entirely certain they’re purposefully so. Lettie isn’t scared of Ursula Monkton because she can call in forces that she is scared of to get rid of her? I dunno, if it were me, I’d find that to be a pretty good reason to be scared of someone. The knowledge that I can set off a bomb in the room we’re in to take out the guy threatening me with a knife doesn’t really make me any less scared, but that seems to be the logic she’s working off of. I’m confused?
And we’re back to the sense of mostly complete powerlessness, although I guess it’s interesting how he has some agency in it this time? Like he’s not trapped by Ursula Monkton, but rather trapped by his own very limited ability to save himself. I feel like the point where his dad walks up and he’s like “I’m not going to carry you back to the house. You’re too big for that” is kind of a good point of reference for the relatively meh reaction I had to this chapter, like, but he totally still could. Or he can’t because the kid’s actually safe in the fairy ring and all the weapons anyone has are words. So his sister and his father, who we’ve seen express antipathy towards him, aren’t especially interesting. I really liked seeing the opal miner come back though, because although he was always very clearly an asshole, he wasn’t really openly mean towards the narrator in the same way his dad under the control of Ursula Monkton was. And then Ursula Monkton shows up and gah I just have no idea what to think. This wasn’t a great place to break the reading assignments this time.
Speaking of which
Okay, I’m thinking we finish the book for next Saturday, August 24th, which I actually will update on this time. As always, leave comments and talk about these chapters! Talk about stuff I talked about! Talk about stuff you want to talk about! Talk about individual scenes or sentences! Talk about overarching themes! Make crazy guesses as to how the book’s going to end. Why did the narrator not remember any of this story until he returned to the ocean as an adult? Why is it even an ocean? It’s totally not an ocean. Whoever comes up with the craziest theory wins a prize! (Note: the prize will likely be immaterial and really lame)