Pavane by Keith Roberts

So that was weird. I first encountered this book in college where, haunting the oddly stocked shelves of the library, I stumbled across the Gollancz version: no blurb, no explanation, just a bright yellow dust jacket with the title, author and the symbol of the Crab people in brick red on the cover. Desperate for any reading material, I checked it out, and after a slow-ish start (because I did not give a shit about trains and I felt that The Lady Margaret chapter went on and on about their handling,) I was plunged into a world so different yet similar. And then the ending! The ending! The book has haunted me since, and when it finally came back into print, Jay got me a copy for a recent birthday. Finally had time to read it, and… I dunno. I think it’s a book that doesn’t bear re-reading. The surprise of it is so overwhelming that going into it again, you expect the same experience, and it just can’t happen. Also, with time and experience, certain things stand out, such as Roberts’ discomfort with writing adolescent women and, worse, the odd gaps in logic and story-telling. Almost two decades later, the ending doesn’t make sense to me any more, though it was perfectly mind-blowing to me at the time. But other things have become better: my annoyance with train talk, for example, matured into an appreciation for the love behind it. And I wonder, too, if my own style of reading hasn’t become more demanding of an author, less demanding of my own imagination to fill in the intellectual blanks.

I’m wistful, still, for that first experience of wonder now colored by a more adult disappointment that what I once thought exquisitely beautiful and strange just wasn’t as much as I’d thought it.

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