Monday 26 July 2010

The Library of Forgotten Books, by Rjurik Davidson

The first two stories in this collection stand alone, in setting if not theme. In "The Cinema of Coming Attractions" the leader of a street gang in a sun-baked coastal town near Marseilles falls for a young film star who's conscious she won't be young for much longer. She takes him to the cinema of the title. It's a cool, calm tale which reminded in a good way of Basil Copper's recently re-published stories. An Australia enriched by an inland sea and facing war with China is the setting for "Int. Morgue. Night.", a hard-boiled spy thriller.

These are followed by four tales of Caeli-Amur, a renaissance city of feuds and assassins perched on a white cliff, where botany, magic and technology have converged in a way that would have thrilled Doctor Lerne. House Arbor and House Technis are locked in a never-ending battle, minotaurs live to the north, and a marble city off the coast is patrolled by a gigantic sea-serpent. The fourth and perhaps best of these stories, "Lost in the Library of Forgotten Books", takes place in a city or town to the north of Caeli-Amur, where Alisa files away forbidden books, protected only by an amulet from the library's twisting, hungry guardians.

If the book has a theme, I think it's doomed or impossible love. The first three stories concern lovers who are prisoners of their situations, the fourth a widow in love with the public image of her dead partner, the fifth an assassin in love with her target, and the sixth a librarian intrigued by the writers whose books she buries in the stacks. In but one of the stories is escape from the trap truly possible, and even then it's thanks only to the protagonist's newly discovered thaumaturgical powers. But though Rjurik Davidson's world can be bleak, it's full of beauty and imagination and ideas, where even the grossest distortions of the human body are described with careful eloquence – and in trapping its characters, or forcing them apart, it reminds us of our own freedom.

The Library of Forgotten Books, Rjurik Davidson, PS Publishing, hb, 162pp.

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