Trevor reveals himself. He confesses to a habit that I find very strange. When he reads a novel, he does not start at the beginning. He opens it at random, somewhere about the middle, and reads on until the end. Then he goes back to page one and reads forward to the place where he started.
I am not sure why I find this process so disturbing. Clearly, he is not experiencing the book in the way that the author intended but, as he would be quick to point out, do we ever do that? Aren’t we always coming to works of art with our own agendas? Why should it matter if we started a novel in the middle?
Trevor, for his part, could claim that he thinks about the work a great deal more closely than the rest of us do. We can skim through on the crest of the story. He has to puzzle it out on the basis of the tiny clues he comes across. He forms hypotheses. He tests them against his experience of the text. Isn’t this much closer to our ordinary experience of life?
He says he has also toyed with an even more radical approach. He takes a book and divides the number of pages in it by six. Then he tosses a dice to see which of the sixths he will read. Say the book is 300 pages, giving six slices of 50 pages each. If his first toss of the dice is a three, he will begin by reading pages 101 to 150. If the next toss is a five, he will go on to read pages 201 to 250 next. He quite likes this approach, even preferring to the start-in-the-middle method. Its major disadvantage is that it takes a long time. Before he gets to read all the sixths he might read one or more of them several times.
Again this approximates the experience of literature to the random encounters of living. Perhaps my unease rests on this point. Fiction is not life precisely because it is structured in a way that life is not. For most of us, using the traditional end-to-end reading method, our reading experience is an act of submission to the inevitability of the story. We engage the writing actively and creatively, bringing the world of the book to life in our imaginations, but we cannot change what happens. Once we start, we must go along for the ride. Fiction is fate, in other words.
For Trevor this isn’t quite so, although what he gets from his strange approach I find difficult to imagine. He believes, though, that he is striking a blow for the freedom of the reader against the tyranny of the author. If that makes any sense at all.
I look out from the verandah into the setting sun and there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of bright motes out there. Even a kilometre away across the valley they are still visible, small bright puffs of light, like dust spots drifting in an empty room. There are so many of them that you might imagine you were looking into the Milky Way on a clear night. Dandelion seeds.
Dandelions are noteworthy, I understand, for parthenogenesis – the ability to reproduce without sex. According to the standard view, sex is an evolutionary strategy designed to combat various parasites, from bacteria to viruses, that threaten a species. By engaging in appropriate genetic recombination a creature can maximise the chances of its offspring being immune to the diseases and biological threats it might naturally be prey to.
According to such a theory, the dandelion is at risk. If a suitably rabid disease came along, it could wipe out the entire dandelion population because there would be no natural defence against it.
Just think about it, though. All those dandelion seeds floating on the evening air. Suppose one of them was infected with something deadly. How would it get to the others? Who would know? Infectious disease depends on proximity. The dandelions have solved this problem not by boosting their immune systems but by floating away.
This, then, might be the only answer to sex. Run for your life.
I fear I have abandoned my principles and engaged in an exercise that might seem to be an attempt at significance. Ah well, it is all in the name of the great variety of life.
For those who care to take a look - the blog has its first review.
Inevitably, we talked about Liliana.
'She's mad,' Amanda said, 'and, what's more, there's something wrong with her medication. Either she's not taking it or it's been badly prescribed.'
'She doesn't seem completely insane, though, does she?' I said.
'I wouldn't know. I haven't seen the whole thing.'
'There's just an infectious sort of energy about it. I mean, other than this stuff about supernatural powers and immortality, it just seems a nice, bouncy, over-confident view of the world.'
'Mad people are sad.' Janice said.
'Don't we all want to believe we're immortal?' Trevor asked. 'Wouldn't it be nice to think that someone had actually done it?'
'A good part of the world actually thinks we are.'
'No,' Trevor answered. 'I mean us. Just us. Who is to say we aren't the first exceptions to the universal rule?'
'You mean we have spend eternity with you?' Amanda said. 'God preserve us!'
'It might be true,' Trevor went on. 'You're either alive or dead, right? How can you tell the difference between an immortal who's alive and a mortal who's alive.'
'Why not go and jump off a cliff then?' Rupert asked.
'I suspect he'll leave that to The AnomalyInfinite,' Amanda answered.
'Poor Liliana,' Janice said.
'Poor? Not poor!' Felix boomed. 'A passionate, free spirit! I need to meet this person. We may be soul mates!'
'Immortal Felix,' I said.
I have received a message from one of the wilder minds to inhabit the awkward space we live in. Liliana a.k.a The AnomalyInfinite has sent me Issue 4 of her Update. My email address is listed among 70 or so lines of others, which include, I note, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. Doubtless these recipients will be as blown away as I am by the power of Liliana's message.
It seems that she was formerly a denizen of this fair city (where I am sure she is sorely missed) but is now somewhere in NZ pursuing her projects. Apparently, she has at last found a 'financial sponsor for her' book project, which she describes thus:
'how an ordinary human becomes a supernatural being with
*powers* ". Think Batman meets Superman meets the Bible. Multi-genre, multi-media, based on my life. The storyline is partially fictional. The powers are not fiction. Nor are the abilities which I have acquired.'
There is a more of the same, although I have to say that Liliana is not as prolix as some of her kind and exudes an exuberance that may not be entirely manic.
She concludes with these words
'I LOVE YOU!-Liliana a.k.a TheAnomalyInfinite
-never settle for anything less than what you are.
achieve, persevere, dream, reach, compete even after you reach immortality.'
The immortality bit seems a bit odd and the previous line makes me tired but I feel that what I take to be the prime message 'never settle for anything less than what you are' is very sound advice indeed. I could argue that whatever I settle for is what I am and therefore this fine goal is always achievable, by definition - a comforting thought for a verandah dweller.
I am curious to know what the others will say.