Andrea Barrett’s The English Pupil

Time flies. Staying at home for extended periods of time when I was unwell I could feel the passage of seasons, days going by excruciatingly slow, each day with its own set of struggles and now I cannot believe such a large chunk of time has passed. The descent of time?

Ship Fever by Andrea Barrett is a collection of short stories I wanted to reread as soon as I finished the book, and it has taken me nearly two years to do it. I bought The Voyage of Narwhal immediately after finishing it, and recently The Air We Breathe has come into my possession but I still haven’t read them. What am I scared of  – her not meeting my exceeded expectations or idiotically trying to collect all her other books (very hard to find in India) while not reading the ones I do have. Life is too short to wait for a complete collection. You read along and hope for the best.

In The English Pupil, Carolus Linnaeus is nostalgic for the past and remembers his apostles (read pupils), who went about the world carrying forward his legacy, sending him specimens and discovering new species. All of his apostles are dead now, and he’s inching closer towards his own.

Linnaeus and his wife remind me of an old couple, who are in the autumn of their lives and are not at peace with it or with each other. (What is the point of companionship then?) His wife doesn’t care about his work or his legacy. His work fulfilled him but didn’t make him rich. The family’s demands weren’t being met and to her that was what mattered the most. She was the pragmatic sort. A dreamer has to be paired with a realist. It is a question of survival, you see. Continue reading “Andrea Barrett’s The English Pupil”

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The myth of happily ever after

If you haven’t yet seen the excellent Before Trilogy by Richard Linklater for whatever reason I urge you not to read ahead. Also, mild spoilers for The Littoral Zone by Andrea Barrett. Spoilers ahead!

But both of them remember those days and nights as being almost purely happy. They swam in that odd, indefinite zone where they were more than friends, not yet lovers, still able to deny to themselves that they were headed where they were headed.

In the short story, The Littoral Zone, two married people with families fall for each other and leave their families behind so they could unite. They realize later that so many things mean something (read everything) only in the moment. Their relationship was complete as it was in the moment but when it was stretched beyond it, the essence was lost. The attraction on the island couldn’t translate into an enduring relationship on the mainland for whatever reason.  Initially I found their behaviour odd. But Jesse and Celine from the Before Trilogy also reunited at a huge personal cost but this was acceptable. Why? Because we are conditioned to believe and root for them because we are shown that they belong together. Does the audience ever think if they are even meant to be together? Imagine something other than what the narrative tells you to and one will see a different story.

Ruby had talked about the littoral zone, that space between high and low watermarks were organisms struggled to adapt to the daily rhythm of immersion and exposure.

In their case, that perfect day they spent together in Vienna can never be replicated and it took so much from them. Celine and Jesse never really recover from that. Their whole life is in the shadow of that perfect day, the way they responded to each other and the way they connected pales to the reality they are living now.

What if they had let it be and let each other remain only a fond memory and not continued to pursue each other over their lifetimes? Continue reading “The myth of happily ever after”