I’ve started reading Michel Tournier’s Gemini. It has a marvellous opening paragraph, with an amusing authorial cameo in it:

On the twenty-fifth of September 1937, a depression moving from Newfoundland to the Baltic sent masses of warm, moist oceanic air into the corridor of the English Channel. At 5:19PM a gust of wind from the west-southwest uncovered the petticoat of old Henriette Puysoux, who was picking up potatoes in her field; slapped the sun blind of the Café des Amis in Plancoët; banged a shutter on the house belonging to Dr. Bottereau alongside the wood of La Hunaudaie; turned over eight pages of Aristotle’s Meteorologica, which Michel Tournier was reading on the road to Plélan; blew wet spray in the face of Jean Chauvé as he was putting his boat out in the Bay of Arguenon; set the Pallet family’s underclothes bellying and dancing on the line where they were drying; started the wind pump racing at the Ferme des Mottes; and snatched a handful of gilded leaves off the silver birches in the garden of La Cassine.

If there’s one book that Gemini reminds me of, it’s C by Tom McCarthy (but don’t let that put you off). In fact, it reminds me of C just a little too much. It’s absolutely replete with symbolism. The French title, for instance, isn’t Gemini – or anything like it – but Les Météores – and, as evidenced by the quoted passage, there’s a lot in it about the weather. Not that twins can be discarded either: there’s plenty of things that can be divided in two. Thankfully, though, Tournier is a lot less heavy-handed in this than McCarthy. – Oh yes, and then it’s set in the countryside: two twins grow up in a house where their father runs a textile factory (rather than a silk factory), and also there’s a home for mentally handicapped children (rather than deaf children) where experiments are conducted about communication -for yes, communication seems to be another symbolic theme (he’s already mentioned Chomsky’s idea of a universal language, though he failed to signpost it properly).

Occasionally there are even paragraphs you feel McCarthy might have written, like this one describing a textile loom:

The old Jacquard was surmounted by a huge towering superstructure like a baldachin, housing the square cylinder on which the perforated cards were hung, the vertical hooks, each controlling one neck card, to which were fastened all those warp threads acting the same way, the horizontal needles that came into contact with the cards, and of course the axle and transmission wheels that worked it all.

But these don’t go on for ten pages.

I’m beginning to suspect that one of the twins may die young (although it’s clear actually another boy dies, to whom they are attached).

Of course, I imagine I’ll soon see less parallels, since after all, I didn’t get much further in C.


6 thoughts on “Twins

  1. How extraordinary – McCarthy’s blinding originality and masterful deplyment of language, theme and character has clearly reached 36 years into the past to influence this book.

  2. Actually, if I’d gone on half a page, there’s another description of the Jacquard which is even more strongly reminiscent of McCarthyism (incl many of his beloved themes, cf. use of “transmission” above):

    “Its large number of wooden parts, comparatively slow action and complex but not after all very numerous movements – few enough at least for a trained ear to distinguish them – all helped to give the sound of the old loom an individuality not unlike speech. Yes, the Jacquard spoke, and Franz understood its language. The series of cards moving in an endless chain around the cylinder and commanding, by their perforations, the ballet of the warps and the design of the fabric made the machine as good as talk. But what was more to the point was that its talk, however long or complicated, would go on repeating itself indefinitely since the number of cards laced end to end was a finite one. Franz had found in the song of the great Jacquard the thing he needed urgently, imperatively, vitally, a progression so circumscribed as to form a closed circuit.”

    Transmission, repetition, machines communicating. Of course, Tournier at least had a reason for Franz thinking this way, since Franz is autistic and abhors anything that’s not consistent.

    He’s an interesting character Tournier: in France, one of the most respected living writers, yet never – in talk, in newspapers, even in blogs – have I once heard him even mentioned in this country. He’s difficult to place too: he has aspects of the avant-garde, but is also basically a story-teller (a lot of his books are retellings of familiar stories: The Four Wise Men, Gilles de Rais). Has a tendency towards sadism and bleak sexuality (there are some passages in this a lot more like Houllebecq). Strangely, though, for the English ignoring him, he’s had a lot of his books translated and is pretty easy to come by in secondhand bookshops.

    It’s a pity I got rid of my copy of C, otherwise I’d look a bit closer into the matter.

  3. If you wish, I am not stickler for made up linguistic rules. (A girl of my acquaintance used to point this out every time I said it, but it didn’t have any effect). How would you say in English: “3 < 4"? – Oh yes, but for some reason it's different with numbers!

    You are the man though, MM, to check for parallels, having suffered your way through C.

  4. That’s a good idea. I don’t know Tournier at all – I’ll have to see if Gemini is in the Kindle Store. After I’ve conquered the remaining 52% of Middlemarch, of course.

  5. If my experience with Daniel Deronda’s anything to go by, that 52% may take a while. – I’m a bit stuck now in Tournier: I think the McCarthy parallels have gone to my head, and I’m getting the same antipathy towards the narrative.

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