"Picture a conveyor belt, a huge conveyor belt, and at the end of it a massive furnace. And on the conveyor belt are books. Every copy in the world of every book you've ever loved. All lined up. Jane Eyre, Villette, The Woman in White...And imagine a lever with two labels, On and Off. At the moment the lever is off. And next to it is a human being, with his hand on the level. About to turn it on. And you can stop it. You have a gun in your hand. All you have to do is pull the trigger. What do you do?"
"Of course I loved books more than people. Of course I valued Jane Eyre over the anonymous stranger with his hand on the lever. Of course all of Shakespeare was worth more than a human life. Of course."
--Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale
Thursday, July 09, 2009
An excerpt from The Thirteenth Tale:
People disappear when they die. Their voice, their laughter, the warmth of their breath. Their flesh. Eventually their bones. All living memory of them ceases. This both dreadful and natural. Yet for some there is an exception to this annihilation. For in the books they write they continue to exist. We can rediscover them. Their humor, their tone of voice, their moods. Through the written word they can anger you or make you happy. They can comfort you. They can perplex you. They can alter you. All this, even though they are dead. Like flies in amber, like corpses frozen in ice, that which according to the laws of nature should pass away is, by the miracle of ink on paper, preserved. It is a kind of magic.Diane Setterfield is an amazing writer, and if you haven't already read The Thirteenth Tale then you really should. I think what she says here makes so much sense. As writers we share the same desires, same fears, as everyone else. With our writing, we will live forever.
As one tends the graves of the dead, so I tend the books. I clean them, do minor repairs, keep them in good order. And every day I open a volume or two, read a few lines or pages, allow the voices of the forgotten dead to resonate inside my head. Do they sense it, these dead writers, when their books ar read? Does a pinprick of light appear in their darkness? Is their soul stirred by the feather touch of another mind reading theirs? I do hope so. For it must be very lonely being dead.