I’ve actually had Angelmaker around for a while now, and had started reading it at least twice, only to set it down. It took me a few runs at it to really get into it, and I’m very glad I did. It’s strange, to be honest, because, if memory serves, I devoured Harkaway’s previous, The Gone-Away World, in one sitting, two at most.
Angelmaker is a similar book in some ways. There are themes of duality here (though not as blatant as the previous), in the use of the protagonist’s double name, Joshua Joseph Spork. It’s interesting how, in scenes of the character early in the book, it’s always Joe or Joseph, but in flashing back, the dual name is used, or even the shortened Josh. The chosen name acts as a marker for the aspect of Spork which developed. As the book progresses, we see more of the Joshua that could have been, until Spork becomes his own balanced combination of the two, his Crazy Joe persona.
There’s also a sense of constructivism at work, an unease with the machined and the mass-produced. Very much what Marx was railing against in noting the theft of the soul of the worker, the distancing of the hands and the heart from the end product. It rings especially loudly in that England was the place Marx most felt the dehumanization of mass production and most felt his Communism could take root.
That same dehumanization is taken literally in the path of the Ruskinites, whose adherence to the hand and the soul in their work is evidenced early on, yet is perverted in their search for meaning and existence in a mechanized world. They turn into that which they railed against, mass-produced, mechanized simulacra of their creator.
There is a sense that there are references I miss, as one who is Angliphilic, but who is not a full fledged Anglophile, let alone an Angle. I’m sure there are jokes and jabs and plays on words one would get were they immersed in English culture, but I never found myself at a stunning loss.
Finally, Angelmaker is a prime example of one of my favorite types of stories, those about fathers and sons. I find a depth to stories about the expectations of and for children and the ways these expectations emerge, both overtly and covertly.
Harkaway has a way with words that seeps into you, alters your thought patterns. A highly recommended experience.
(As I read through my book list, I’m going to pay special attention to new words I’m learning. Harkaway has some choice ones I particularly enjoyed. Partially because they’re chiefly used in British English, but also because they, in the manner of Twain, are the right words.)
lissom - adjective
(of a person or their body) thin, supple, and graceful.
barbican - noun
the outer defense of a castle or walled city, especially a double tower above a gate or drawbridge.
houri - noun
a beautiful young woman, especially one of the virgin companions of the faithful in the Muslim Paradise.
actinic - adjective [ attrib. ]
(of light or lighting) able to cause photochemical reactions, as in photography, through having a significant short wavelength or ultraviolet component.
amanuensis - noun (pl. amanuenses |-ˌsēz| )
a literary or artistic assistant, in particular one who takes dictation or copies manuscripts.
seraglio - noun (pl. seraglios) historical
the women's apartments (harem) in an Ottoman palace.
doughty - adjective (doughtier, doughtiest) archaic, humorous
brave and persistent
In Greek mythology the Graeae, also called the Grey Sisters, were three sisters in Greek mythology who shared one eye and one tooth among them. Their names were Deino, Enyo, and Pemphredo.
Tricoteuses - noun (pl. same)
a woman who sits and knits (used especially in reference to a number of women who did this, during the French Revolution, while attending public executions).
And finally, some favorite passages, among so damned many:
“There’s a pause while the chairman considers the possibility that he may have revealed rather more of himself than he had intended.”
“He thinks everything that happens anywhere on Earth is in some way his fault,” she replies. “My brother says it’s some sort of inverted egotism.”
“This is a wicked world. There are islands of joy, but they are small and the tide is rising, and even on dry land there are those who would embrace the tide.”
“His grandfather was scathing about ‘speculative faith’, which is the kind you get from worrying about the possibility that God exists and may be cross with you. Daniel Spork observed that God, if there is one, is well aware of the interior dialogue, and most likely unimpressed by it. Much better, he said, to get on with being the man you are, and hope like buggery that God thinks you did as well as could be expected.”