I do like the idea I’m multi-tasking, and lately, the closest I’ve managed has been in terms of reading materials. I’ve been recuperating, in a not very interesting way, for about two weeks.
When I first returned home, I binged on a collection of Brother Cadfael mysteries I was gifted last year. Ellis Peters, whose real name was Edith Mary Pargeter, wrote lovely, reassuring pictures of 12th century England.
These novels are set in a time of political upheaval and uncertainty, but within the confines of Shrewsbury Abbey, even murderous threats are unraveled, and set in order with calm good humour. No matter how brutal an attack has been made, how misguided the accusations against the primary suspect, Brother Cadfael can be relied upon to view it with generosity, and usually, play cupid to a romance that seems fated to failure.
In the middle of September of that year of Our Lord, 1140, two lords of Shropshire manors, one north of the town of Shrewsbury, the other south, sent envoys to the abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul on the same day, desiring the entry of younger sons of their houses to the Order.
One was accepted, the other rejected. For which different treatment there were weighty reasons.
So begins, The Devil’s Novice. How effortlessly I slip through the doors of the cloisters, to find out who, and which, and why.
These mysteries make soothing nightcaps, and I’ve worked my way through six of them. I had expected this would feel like too much of a good thing, but here I am, preparing to set out on a new adventure with trusty Cadfael.
Meanwhile, progress on my literary read, Snow, by Orhan Pamuk, is slow. After two weeks, I’m halfway through. I’m intrigued, even curious, but it’s a book that I can only take in one chapter at a time.
The first one begins:
The silence of snow, thought the man sitting just behind the bus-driver. If this were the beginning of a poem, he would have called what he felt inside him ‘the silence of snow’.
He’d boarded the bus from Erzurum to Kars with only seconds to spare. He’d just come into the station on a bus from Istanbul – a snowy, stormy, two-day journey – and was rushing up and down the wet, dirty corridors with his bag in tow, looking for his connection, when someone told him that there was a bus for Kars leaving immediately.
My questions, this time, are all ‘who’? It’s not just the (so far) nameless character I wonder about, at first, I can’t figure out the narrator. He’s sidled up to me, getting increasingly close. ‘Our traveller‘, he says, and ‘So let us take advantage of this lull to whisper a few biographical details’.
Whoa, I try to tell him, haven’t you heard of social distancing? I’m not sure we know each other well enough to be so close. I don’t know that we share a common view of this world. But this narrator is pushy, doesn’t allow me to back away. Three pages in and he offers me some reassurance.
…I’m an old friend of Ka’s and I begin this story knowing everything that will happen to him during his time in Kars.
Ka, then, that’s the name of the central character. Something to hold onto, at last.
Ka enters the bus, and the story is properly started. I can ignore the intrusive narrator and focus on Ka, the poet. Something will be happening soon, that’s clear. What it might be is not predictable. Even the weather isn’t.
The road signs caked with snow were impossible to read. Once the snowstorm began to rage in earnest, the driver turned off his full beam and dimmed the lights inside the bus, hoping to conjure the road out of the semi-darkness.
This scene feels like a metaphor for the story. Ka is asked by one of his fellow travellers why he’s travelling to Kars.
‘I’m a journalist,’ Ka whispered in reply. This was a lie. ‘I’m interested in the municipal elections – and also the women who’ve been committing suicide.’ This was true.
What am I to make of this, that Ka is unreliable too?
Perhaps, he is more realistically human than the infallible Cadfael, though it’s hardly fair to draw comparisons. Both fictions do their job, in transporting me to other times and places. The conclusion I’ve reached is that, odd as it may seem, my daytime and nighttime reads compliment each other.
I wonder what other odd partnerships are waiting to be discovered.