Laura [taken from S/N/D] // Soren Melville [thoughts + spoilers]

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I’m torn between writing about ‘Laura’ from Soren Melville’s book S/N/D and doing a bizarro story about left wing robots called left wing robots.

Is there enough in the concept?

I don’t know.

Writing without a plan is better, I think, though

everything I know about robots

and left wing politics is pretty vague in my head and

I don’t know if there’ll be enough detail stocked into the story to make it good.

The worst thing it could be is:

The left wing robots go to Caracas and talk to Chavez and

are reprogrammed a little and then sent to

the guy who writes Tal Cual, I can’t remember how to spell his name

I think it’s Petkoff or Tepkoff

and the left wing robots are not like the right wing robots

they won’t kill without mercy

they’ll talk a bit first and try to change the mind

of someone whose mind can’t be changed

which is most people I guess

and then when that fails

they’ll just crush his head in their claw

and tell Chavez there was no other way

the guy was implacable.

But Chavez is dead, so

they’ll tell the bus driver turned president instead.

Man, I love the idea that a bus driver can be president

as long as it’s not any of the fuckers in Hong Kong

who always accelerate and brake when I’m trying to walk down the stairs.

Okay, left wing robots

I’ll write it fast

later

but first

I’ll have a crack at Laura

 

LAURA // Soren Melville

 

Disclaimer: I know Soren on the internet, so that’s why this will be random notes/thoughts, not a review.

Plot: A boy called Simon, who was raised female, is stuck in a Swedish mental hospital with a roommate who is obsessed with erections.

Simon is obsessed with something too. Dracula. And a girl called Laura who seems to be slowly starving to death elsewhere in the hospital.

And lots of other things.

Actually, it might just be the therapist’s perspective that Simon is obsessed with these things. To Simon, they could just be things he thinks about.

Notes:

I know for sure the following things:

– the writing is quite beautiful, with a mix of lyrical descriptions of outside the clinic and animals, and blunt/weird observations by the narrator.

The fragmented style reminds me of Sayonara Gangsters, with short segments making up quite short chapters.

It’s not exactly the same as ‘Sayonara’ as it doesn’t have the continuous narrative flow that the Japanese book had – the story is pretty much linear, but the character’s thoughts aren’t really. In fact, the character doesn’t seem to realise the passing of time at all. When his family turns up, it’s the first we’ve heard of them.

The themes of the book, I’m not so sure. Far as I can tell the main character is trans and there’s a lot of stuff about Dracula and the weather outside becoming colder and the whole setting is in Sweden, which is not where the author is from, so it seems like the main themes are transformation and wishing you were something or somewhere else.

This makes sense to me as whenever there are Dracula extracts in the story [there are about four in total, I think] they always stop just short of showing actual vampires. One of them has Van Helsing about to open a coffin and talking about what they will find inside, but it cuts off before he opens it.

I don’t think anything’s accidental in novels, even though sometimes the author can write something as it comes to them, or comes out of their head, and it can have a meaning that they probably knew about on a subconscious level but didn’t consciously plan. I really believe the best novels come from this kind of writing. When the themes of a novel are too neat then it becomes boring/contrived and tells me the author didn’t really feel any of this story, they just thought it out on an intellectual level.

Sometimes that can work. Foundation by Asimov, Ubik by Dick, Babel-17 by Delaney and loads of other sci-fi spring to mind. I don’t think any of those characters were weird/varied enough to be real, but it didn’t matter as the concepts were so good.

Maybe Babel-17 doesn’t fit that description…I’ll have to re-read it and check.

Laura the corpse?

I have no idea what the character of Laura means. I guess it might tie up with the idea of fantasy not matching reality, as when the main character sees her close up, he realises that her eyes are a different colour from his fantasy version of her.

Like I said in the intro, it might be the therapist coming up with all these explanations. That’s what Soren told me when I e-mailed him.

Which would make the therapist the reader as well?

We, the readers, also try to figure out what the Dracula and Laura segments mean to Simon, because they must mean something and if we can figure it out then maybe we can come to conclusions and diagnose and sweep the whole thing under the carpet.

But does that relate to real life people?

I like Blake’s 7 at the moment, but does it mean anything that I like it? Does it define me in any way?

Fiction has to try to define its character, movies too, so we can know what we are dealing with. And the definition has to be tightly drawn, so there are no mistakes. But, in this one, maybe Simon just likes Dracula cos he can live forever? Maybe he likes him now but won’t think about him as much two years later?

I like stories where the characters are “obsessed” with many things, because it makes them hard to predict and pin down. And some of the things they are obsessed with are short term, others long term, and there could be many different interpretations as to why they like these things.

I had an Australian friend who was obsessed with the Dune series, so much so that he wanted to write a new one. At the same time, he was also obsessed with collecting Laserdiscs and learning animal names in Japanese. That was six years ago. Now he just laughs about it. Dune is still decent, he’ll say, and I still know the Japanese for bear and dolphin, but that’s about it.

It seems in ‘Laura’ that Soren [the author] doesn’t really give a shit about theme cos Dracula is not featured enough for it to be painfully thematic.

It might relate to transformation and being trans, it might not. That is how I interpreted it, though others may not.

Really, I’m just happy to be able to have any interpretative powers at all. I used to need to have things spelled out to me in high school, especially when reading King Lear. The storm was his mental state? I had no idea. I thought it was just a way of putting Lear in danger so Edmund could attack him.

Were the twisters in Twister reflecting Bill Paxton’s mental state?

Maybe.

What else?

I thought the main character was almost permanently sullen/moody, not unlikeable exactly but maybe emotionally unvaried.

This is probably down to two things:

i] The setting and the characters and the routine of the institution don’t change, so there’s no fresh input to force a different emotional state from Simon. Everyone reacts differently to Simon in terms of kindness or aggression, but not one of them can really understand him. Also, because he’s in a mental institution, everyone fixates on his gender identity, it defines him completely, whereas if he were living somewhere like Japan, he’d be defined by many other things e.g. his Swedishness.

and

ii] The story is only 60 pages long, so it can get away with it. If it had been over 100 pages, I think Simon would’ve needed some kind of variance. But then again, I also kind of like the idea of novels where the main character doesn’t change even a tiny bit.

Funny lines?

Yeah, there’s some humour, but not much. Most of it comes from Simon’s thoughts, and sometimes his actions e.g. when he thinks he’s looking at his therapist, but he’s actually staring at the floor. Okay, it’s not quite at the man with two brains ‘I can’t fuck a gorilla’ level, but it made me smirk.

Is a lack of humour a problem?

Not really. The beauty of the descriptions and the general writing makes up for it, but it does make it harder to sympathise with Simon. Kind of. Actually, I like that he mostly daydreams his way through the story, but others may find him distant. I’m guessing that’s the point. If you went to a real mental institution, which patients would you be more likely to warm to? Probably the ones who came closest to acting the way you think people should act when they meet strangers. The ones most similar to you and everyone else you know.

The same way a xenophobe will like a foreigner who mimics his culture, but hate anyone who operates by their own cultural norms.

The orderlies try to make Simon smile and say sorry a few times in the story, to act like a “normal” person, even though it’s forcing him to say sorry to people who treated him like shit.

You can’t expect people to act normally when you treat them as aliens.

Obviously, the media plays a huge role in how most people view the other. No, it’s more than that, the media creates the other from people who aren’t really other at all. You can see that from the last 20 years of western media othering Muslim people.

I guess that’s how you end up with Simon feeling completely isolated, even among the other “crazy” people. They don’t understand what he is, whereas his roommate obsessing over erections is familiar enough for everyone to cope with.

Actually, I got the feeling that Simon didn’t really give a shit about the other people in the story. Seems like what he really wanted to do was either a] bite/fuck Laura or, b] run outside into the wilderness and join the horses.

Therapists know

The other thing that crops up is the role of the therapist. He seems like a decent guy, always treading carefully and analysing Simon’s behaviour, but all from a medical POV. I guess it’s impossible for him to really know what it’s like to be in Simon’s place, which means…what?

His function, his job is to get Simon “normal” again, to be accepted back into the world, even though Simon doesn’t really want to go back to that world.

It’s never really clear what’s wrong with Simon. Why is he in there?

He has a temper problem, but that seems to come from being in contact with abusive people.

Did he attack someone outside?

Is he there simply because he’s trans?

I don’t know.

Actually, the mental institution seems like it’s taken from a composite of many movies. I’ve never been inside one, it might be like this, I don’t know. But I’m guessing it was created by the author simply as a metaphor for the world in general.

I’m not that keen on the mental institution setting. I think I’ve just seen too many, and it’s not different enough to make it stand out.

The Swedish part was a nice touch, but underused. Far as I remember, there are no Swedish place names mentioned and there’s only one reference to the fact that everyone’s actually speaking Swedish.

Correction: I just e-mailed Soren and he told me there is one Swedish place name in the story, Kiruna, which is the northernmost town in the country. Must’ve missed it, I guess, though to be fair to me it’s only six letters long. To be unfair to me, it’s clearly not like any other word [except Kikuna, a Japanese suburb of Yokohama where I was in hospital one time long ago], so it should’ve stood out.

I suppose it’s hard to show everyone is speaking Swedish when you’re writing in English and all the characters are Swedish. Could’ve been fixed by making Simon American or English or some other nationality that doesn’t speak Swedish, then you could’ve had the Swedish characters speaking directly in their own language when they didn’t want to be understood. Generally, I like this kind of tactic, mostly because it isolates the main character more and I live in a place where everyone speaks Cantonese so language is something I think about every day.

Yeah, overall, everyone pretty much seems American to me, which is not bad in itself, but for someone who’s seen a lot of American films with mental institutions, it makes it harder for the novel setting to stand out.

That’s the only thing I would change about ‘Laura’, I think, and it’s not a deal breaker because the writing is so strong.

Anything else?

Yeah.

Dracula should’ve turned up at the end, like Frankenstein in Spirit of the Beehive.

That would’ve been pointless, but good.

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