At the start I was all-- well, I was all how anyone would be in the face of stuff like this:
Hill beyond blue whalebacked hill rose lightward, transparencies of stone, all etched with runic woods, enduring. She had known their green unison, their tongues of fire; so read time past in bare notation. Winter had distilled.As Dorothy Parker said, 'She can go on like this for pages. Can, hell-- does.'
And yet it grows on you. Partly it's the visuals: if you *see* what's being said it's perfectly exact. 'Transparencies of stone?' The hills round Kyoto do that-- in fact it's a common decorative topos in Japanese art. Hills beyond hills turned into flat blue or grey areas and separated from each other by the mist that rises from the valleys. Runic woods? Well, yes-- thin upright strokes with little branches; is what a line of winter trees on a hill looks like.
There's more, but it's hard to say exactly what it is. The narrative seems to look at things from the inside out, rather than the usual pov from the outside describing a surface. The outside narrator can name things, which is convenient but often reduces outside narrative to a dull sameness. Of course, inside narration can drive you batty at times. Henry James does it, and does drive me batty, because he doesn't name the emotions and feelings his characters are expressing. But that's what makes it different from the usual modes. Not naming lets him display those emotions that have no names because they're a bit of this and a bit of that, much like Japanese colours. (Maybe if I was into interior design I might have the vocabulary for those, but as it is-- my sister likes aquamarine, and I've more than once stood in Takashimaya or Tobu looking at a bowl and trying to decide was it aquamarine or was it turquoise or was it just green or what was it anyway?)
The inside narration here seems to be expressing the actual reality of a thing rather than the outside perceived reality of it. Stubborn rationalist me keeps wanting to translate this form back into the more customary one-- uhh, she's coming to see her friend who lives in the house inherited from her grandmother but the friend isn't there when she arrives because she's gone shopping. Which kind of misses the point, since the action isn't really happening in the outside mundane world, but inside, internally, the way it looks to the feeling self, not the thinking one. And doing that, like James, it can express feelings that would go leaden as a fallen cake if put in ordinary narrative:
they were being people as yet unknown to her-- ah, but she would never know them, they were elsewhere, sliding from themselves to other selves, three and many and one mind, teasing her with an uncomprehended joy.And I think yeah I know that. Long ago when I was twelve or thirteen and none of us were set in our personalities, and how did these girls turn into these women and why?
What this reminds me of, quite painfully in fact, is the way the world looked in my late teens and twenties. When people were more than themselves, when archetypes looked out of everyone's eyes, when all things were possible. With age the world flattens to outside narration-- you get the measure of everything-- but the possibility is lost.
Gilman does something of what Holdstock does- gets back to the roots of things, the stuff underneath. Like Holdstock she doesn't define, she just describes. The effect is less of surrealism than of high realism: the thing being itself without everyday context suggests all the unspoken depths that the thing possesses. Of course she does it the way the French argue, by analogy. This also drives you batty until you learn to think differently and see the possibilities inherent in the method. She also uses Holdstock's means, of rooting (literally) things in the reality of forest and woodland, which is something a city child like me shouldn't relate to at all, except that Holdstock's right: forests are the prime mytho-poetic landscape for England-derived cultures. (Mountains too, but mountains I can't relate to at all. The Welsh and the Scots do mountains, which is another thing that really makes them different from the English. English 'mountains' are
She uses the full range of English, and then some. Arbitrary association and metaphors and wordplay; but also the dialect words that describe the natural world and suggest that sense of concentrated history inherent in the British Isles. (I've no idea why time piles up there so thickly and not in other places I've been to that are just as old if not older- Japan, Rome, Spain. The climate, maybe?)
In fact, if I may admit of a niggle here-- I expect this sort of thing in Holdstock and Alan Garner and John Cowper Powys and of course Flann O'Brian and just about any Irish writer you care to name ('How the Irish saved the English language' would make a great article.) It's where they live-- literally. I'm not sure how I feel about an American doing it. Feels all wrong. Americans have their own language (and flora and fauna and legends and archetypes.) They should do all this with American dialects and landscapes, as Crowley does. When I find one using British forms-- enh. It rubs me the wrong way. Murcans getting uppity; probably the way I'd feel about an English writer doing riffs on the deep south in Faulkner territory.