“Why aren’t you in school? I see you every day wandering around.”
“Oh, they don’t miss me,” she said. “I’m antisocial, they say. I don’t mix. It’s so strange. I’m very social indeed. It all depends on what you mean by social, doesn’t it?
Social to me means talking to you about things like this.”
She rattled some chestnuts that had fallen off the tree in the front yard.
“Or talking about how strange the world is. Being with people is nice. But I don’t think it’s social to get a bunch of people together and then not let them talk, do you? An hour of TV class, an hour of basketball or baseball or running, another hour of transcription history or painting pictures, and more sports, but do you know, we never ask questions, or at least most don’t; they just run the answers at you, bing, bing, bing, and us sitting there for four more hours of film-teacher. That’s not social to me at all.
It’s a lot of funnels and lot of water poured down the spout and out the bottom, and them telling us it’s wine when it’s not. They run us so ragged by the end of the day we can’t do anything but go to bed or head for a Fun Park to bully people around, break windowpanes in the Window Smasher place or wreck cars in the Car Wrecker place with the big steel ball. Or go out in the cars and race on the streets, trying to see how close you can get to lampposts, playing ‘chicken’ and ‘knock hubcaps.’
I guess I’m everything they say I am, all right. I haven’t any friends. That’s supposed to prove I’m abnormal. But everyone I know is either shouting or dancing around like wild or beating up one another.
Do you notice how people hurt each other nowadays?”
I found this book in my sci-fi pile. Written in 1962 and possibly the last book by Aldous Huxley, Island is a far cry from Brave New World.
It tries to mix Buddhism and English Colonialism and philosophy into a stew that just doesn’t taste good. It’s too contrived and the subject at hand is an utopia in the form of the Palanese society – who embrace modern science and technology to improve medicine and nutrition, but have rejected widespread industrialization.
Let me tell you I haven’t heard of Tom Tryon before this book and also had no idea that this book is over 40 years old! I had it in audiobook format for a very long drive and I literally thought it was written last year. There were only a few clues about the year the characters lived in – one mention of 1972 New York, a phonograph and also a device that reads books for the blind (much like the format I was listening in). It aged well!
As I was getting immersed in the novel, I could not help noticing it carries almost the same universal themes that have made The Hidden People by Alison Littlewood a lovely read. Modern family (mom, dad and teen daughter) move from the bustle of the Big Apple into a quiet village of Cornwall Coombe and have to adjust their mindset in order to fit in with the villagers.
I, personally, would not have made the move regardless of how beautiful or how cheap the house they were moving into was! The village did not have a doctor but something of a midwife and healer, did not have a school as there weren’t many children of school age and the only stores were far away in the city. The house also needed massive amounts of money to make it liveable (new kitchen, bathroom, floors).
Thankfully the house wasn’t haunted! Ned and Beth Constantine have moved their entire lives into what appeared to be an idyllic paradise in the country only to find soon that there is rot under the surface and by that time, it was too late to get out.
The people of this quaint little town are eccentric, but friendly. Their daughter Kate can have a horse, Beth can learn new crafts like stitching and quilting, and Ned has plenty of beautiful landscapes and interesting faces to sketch for his burgeoning career in the galleries back in the city. The economy of Cornwall Coombe is driven by agriculture and the crops especially the corn has been yielding bumper returns. Every year the folkspeople celebrate significant dates in agriculture – like planting, sowing, harvesting – by throwing fairs and parties and in their desire to do things “the old way”, they have shunned technological advances. Only a young man wants, against his father’s wishes, to move to the city and study farming and modern means to plow the land. He even bought his own tractor.
The villagers are not happy with this boy’s desires as they conflict with the role the elders have in mind for him as Harvest lord – the man to receive the honours of the harvest and the help of the people for the next 7 years.
Every 7 years, in a ritual as old as time, the village people pick a new lord and the old one is “dethroned” in a ceremony called “Harvest Home”.
As the date comes nearer, Ned uncovers an old secret and then a few others – the single-mindness of harvest oriented agriculture and pagan rituals punishing those who digress from the norm. As one of Ned’s friends observe – the village did have a lawman, a constable – but he was plump and never called upon as the law was dealt in the “old way”, the villagers punishing the deed like a clan.
In the mean-time, Ned and Beth are trying for another baby even though Ned might be infertile from a case of Mumps he had a few years back. But they do seem to get along well together and his love for her is one of the things that shines brightly through the book.
”I listened to her easy, rhythmic breathing, watched the rise and fall of her breast, my eye lingering on the rounded fullness of the pale flesh, the darker, almost carmine-colored tips under pleated translucent cotton. Though pillow-creased and sleepy, a trifle wan and strained, her face to me, sixteen years her husband was infinitely pleasing. I was not only her spouse, her lover, but her admirer as well, and I speculated as to how many married couples were as good friends as we were.”
The midwife / healer of the town is called Widow Fortune and she displays a strong interest in the new family that moved in. She is the one that convinced Tamar Pemrose to sell them the house and she’s the one that cured Kate from her asthma. She’s also giving potions to Beth to help with the child conceiving and including her in all women’s groups around the village. From her voice, you hear that women rule in the village as they pick the men and rule them. Beth is too mild to rule Ned and Ned quickly spots small changes in his wive’s personality as she becomes quieter and more pensive. Even his outgoing daughter seems to change – she’s taken to stitching and she does not even want to watch TV anymore.
And to make things even more interesting, the village slut (*cough* had to put it that way), Tamar Penrose is after him.
”I could smell her scent, not just the perfume but the whole womanly, feminine scent of her. I looked up, felt her hair brush across my eyes. I started to turn away; she leaned insistently and the red mouth came closer, the lips moist, parted. She kissed me. I slid an arm around her neck and held her mouth to mine. I released her in confusion, and she shuddered, burying her lips in my shirt collar, then stepping away. ‘I knew,’ she murmured, and her head nodded as though in private conversation. ‘I knew’”
She’s obsessed. She’s dangerous. She wants Ned in her bed and there’s nothing to stop her. I nearly shouted when dumb-ass Ned goes to her home to play with her possibly autistic daughter and has a few drinks and ends up kissing her. Duuuude! You don’t go near a viper unless you want to get bitten!
Tamar even takes it one step further and incites Ned near a stream until he freakingrapes her to show his control / power over her. I had to pull over the car and listen at the unfolding scenes. Pastoral Cornwall Coombe hid not only a murder but a whore and now a rapist! But the amount of secrets keeps on spilling out. Beth is not pregnant, Ned is sterile, and there’s a fertility cult connected to harvest gods going around the village which required a blood sacrifice on Harvest Home from the previous Harvest Lord and also a sex orgy in the fields. Poor Ned gets to see his wife become the center of the orgy where the previous Harvest Lord copulates with her under heavy drugs mixed with the mead after which he is killed and his blood sprayed across the field for a good crop in the next years.
I can’t say I haven’t read about fertility rituals before or how closely incipient agrary societies connected sex with the earth giving them a good crop. The book is a great description of such practices and customs and a good study material for any sociology student wishing to learn about old traditions which may be now extinct due to the spread of industrialisation and globalisation.
Why I liked the book
Shows the culture shock a person has to go through to go from one place to another. Either from the city to the country-side or from the country-side to the city – there is an adjustment period and also a steep learning curve when local customs and traditions unknown to the visitor have to be passed onto him either by verbal means or by practical. Both Ned and Beth are being taught about local customs and are warned not to interfere in things they know nothing about.
“You can’t negate the ingrained imagination of a whole culture.”
It presents many of the harvest rituals I’ve read before – the corn puppets, the consultation of the local Oracle to see how the weather will be, whether the crops will grow, – in this book the Oracle is the half-breed child of Tamar Penrose.
Inbreeding is described in the book as a practice of small villages – according to Don and his wife, everyone in the village used to be related to a Penrose at one point. Possibly that’s why Tamar’s child is so odd!
I liked how people turned superstitious when an event happened due to their lack of education. No school in the village means not a lot of knowledge to go around! Wind comes down through a chimney that’s just been cleared? Gasp! You must be getting some news! Child has freckles? Gasp! They looks just like constellations so she must be able to tell the future! Woman suffers from severe growth due to acromegalia – she is cursed! She will definitely curse the crops that they don’t grow.
What I didn’t like about the book
Ned didn’t have to go near Tamar at all. I know she was seductive and all but why approach her? Why feed her delusions? She did say she wanted to be married 5 times in her life! How would that been possible if her husband lived? Local ho alert!
The rape scene is pretty drawn out. I mean, it’s described that Tamar liked it and that it was what she wanted but still!
How did the news of the Rape reach Beth but not the Widow? I’m sure she would have used that factoid in the character assassination of Ned in front of the village crowd.
Why didn’t their blind neighbour tell Ned what happened to get him blinded? Most of Ned’s fate could have been avoided if he knew that factoid. Watch the Harvest Home? Get your eyes picked out by crazy women!
Why did he decide to stay with Beth after she took part in Harvest Home and she definitely wasn’t carrying his child? I get that he got blinded but the first thing he could have done is … I don’t know, become Daredevil and get revenge? His punishment was way out of proportion to what happened to him.
Beth definitely was brainwashed to stay there. But what about Kate, she knew enough of the city to maybe want to return there one day? Will she be prevented like the young boy with the tractor?
This is an example of why horror literature (that’s right, I called it literature!), became so popular in America in the 80’s. Authors like Thomas Tryon sparked the imagination of those horror writers that became the mainstream later on, like King or McCammon. Here, you can find the seeds of all that came later. Children of the Corn? It’s here. Evil in a small town? It’s here.
Still reading Atlas Shrugged (been about two months now) and I came across this part of John Gault’s speech.
Close to the finish now but I still don’t want this book to end…
“Did you wonder what is wrong with the world? You are now seeing the climax of the creed of the uncaused and unearned. All your gangs of mystics, of spirit or muscle, are fighting one another for power to rule you, snarling that love is the solution for all the problems of your spirit and that a whip is the solution for all the problems of your body – you who have agreed to have no mind.
Granting man less dignity than they grant to cattle, ignoring what an animal trainer could tell them-that no animal can be trained by fear, that a tortured elephant will trample its torturer, but will not work for him or carry his burdens -they expect man to continue to produce electronic tubes, supersonic airplanes, atom-smashing engines and interstellar telescopes, with his ration of meat for reward and a lash on his back for incentive.
“Make no mistake about the character of mystics. To undercut your consciousness has always been their only purpose throughout the ages -and power, the power to rule you by force, has always been their only lust.
“From the rites of the jungle witch-doctors, which distorted reality into grotesque absurdities, stunted the minds of their victims and kept them in terror of the supernatural for stagnant stretches of centuries- to the supernatural doctrines of the Middle Ages, which kept men huddling on the mud floors of their hovels, in terror that the devil might steal the soup they had worked eighteen hours to earn -to the seedy little smiling professor who assures you that your brain has no capacity to think, that you have no means of perception and must blindly obey the omnipotent will of that supernatural force:
Society-all of it is the same performance for the same and only purpose: to reduce you to the kind of pulp that has surrendered the validity of its consciousness.
“But it cannot be done to you without your consent.
This is what happens when inept people rule the country and prioritize budgeting for friends and luxury rather than food and subsistence and jobs:
“Soybeans make an excellent substitute for bread, meat, cereals and coffee-and if all of us were compelled to adopt soybeans as our staple diet, it would solve the national food crisis and make it possible to feed more people.
The greatest food for the greatest number-that’s my slogan.
At a time of desperate public need, it’s our duty to sacrifice our luxurious tastes and eat our way back to prosperity by adapting ourselves to the simple, wholesome foodstuff on which the peoples of the Orient have so nobly subsisted for centuries. There’s a great deal that we could learn from the peoples of the Orient.”
I am still reading Atlas Shrugged (and I am basically on the last few hundred pages). I’ve reached a stage where I could see parts of the Communism dictatorship in Romania, where I could see what a greedy government can do to its people and I could see that favours and money made the world go round. I know it. I’ve lived in it. And reading Atlas Shrugged brought it all back to me.
I’ve reached a stage in the book where Ayn Rand is explaining in great detail what happens if the men in power listen to whimsical ideas whispered in their ears rather than think of consequences. They’ve nearly nationalized all the railroads through the Railroad Unification Act and they’ve diverted 15,000 train carts from the harvest in Minnesota to a soy-bean farm project a colleague of theirs was blabbing about. The granaries of the country – ready to dispatch their wheat to the starving people – left alone in their single hour of need.
“Well, after all, it is a matter of opinion whether wheat is essential to a nation’s welfare-
“I live for the dream that my children will be born free. That they will be what they like. That they will own the land their father gave them.’
‘I live for you,’ I say sadly.
She kisses my cheek. ‘Then you must live for more.”
I absolutely loved this book. Why? Who wouldn’t want to read about a society split into different functional levels on Mars? About a school for the elite that starts off with the brutal murdering of half of the applicants by their peers, about a rise from rags to riches and a struggle to the top when everybody is perfect. A book about a Mockingjay that sings the start of a revolution and then is hanged to death in front of friends and family and her devoted husband.
About wits and courage and loads of hate.
Cassie will not let Society determine her loved one. Part 1/3
In the Society, Officials decide. Who you love. Where you work. When you die. Cassia has always trusted their choices, but she begins to question just how perfect her world really is when she notices things are not what they seem. As Cassia begins to doubt the Society’s infallibility, she is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.