A rocket ship,
a three-pronged squid,
a red cone hat and three red tights.
Inside, a spaceman on his virgin flight.
Don’t wait up for me love.
The scientists spin their pencils,
Nails gnawed to the end.
Beeps on a screen,
flash like stars in the sky.
Don’t wait up for me love.
The wall in front of our pioneer
stares him down. A photograph stuck to the wall.
Wife with their child in her arms.
A tear falls, pulled down by the earth.
Don’t wait up for me love.
‘To Mars!’ they said. The red planet!
‘Ooh!’ ‘Aah!’ The crowds bayed with anticipation.
It was him, chosen from a million.
Our hero, proud and humbled, unable to move.
Don’t wait up for me love.
Fire scorches the earth below,
the engines scream at the earth:
“Let us go!”
Painfully, slowly, they part like reluctant lovers.
Don’t wait up for me love.
Through the window our hero sees the cold earth,
suspended in a black womb.
He is shot from the atmosphere into the deep.
Further than any man has ever gone before him.
Don’t wait up for me love,
I’m not coming back.
I got to the platform at 18.30 after a day of running about in search of a ticket. My holiday was already three weeks old and as of yet I had done nothing to make use of it. My girlfriend had broken up with me the day work had finished and the slow healing process had come to fruition. Each day she slid further from my mind and happiness lowly filtered back in. Three weeks of moping around, drinking and smoking is not healthy. Not for the body nor for the mind. I couldn’t help it though; when I get stuck in a rut nothing can extricate me from it save the passage of time. I needed a break to fully cauterize the wound. New places that didn’t remind me of her. and when Liz messaged me that morning that she would be in Riga on her way down through Eastern Europe, I jumped at the opportunity to join her. I left a note for my flatmates and quickly packed a bag with clothes, cables, and a couple of condoms just in case. I had only stayed in one hostel before, but I heard that they’re full of horny travelers. I was getting sick of the whole miserable brokenhearted loser act, I wanted to get back in the game.
The train to Riga left at 19.00 exactly so I had half an hour to spare. I could thank my father for teaching me the maxim; ‘everything takes longer than you think.’ It meant I was never left fidgeting in the backseats of taxis nervously checking my phone, no leaping over airport barriers. No exciting life, but I always made my journey. I was punctual and a man to be trusted. When I said I would be somewhere, people knew that I would be there. I also inherited the other side of this coin; the irritation felt when others weren’t up to my level of punctuality. It shows such great disrespect, everyone knows this, so why do they continue to do it, to let me down? A grown man should be able to control their time, to predict what may happen and account for any event. I had done well on this one, aren’t you proud? Even got on early enough to procure myself a bed. Obviously though, I couldn’t predict everything. Once I got on the train it was not my realm anymore. My punctuality counted for nothing. We were slaves to the whims of the driver or the suicidal man laying on the tracks. My journey was out of my hands and that made me feel strangely nervous.
I hooked the curtain back behind a peg and gazed out the window. My ears were plugged with my music. Another train stood still beside us in the station and the carriage slowly filled with passengers. Next to me, on the other side of the aisle sat four people. They were immediate friends, I could see them in my peripheral vision, hand shaking, back slapping, faces red from laughing so hard. How strange people are. Sit them on a metro or a bus and no niceties are exchanged. As soon as they get on an overnight train though everyone becomes best friends. They are happy to share their life story, their food and their drink. Why? Cynics will say that it is to protect their valuables during the night, an immediate pack is formed who will look out for each other. The friendliness in one compartment creates a hostility to the others: their common enemy. Other cynics will say that it is simply the done thing, so we will all follow suit as we are sheep. It would be rude not to so we must. Me, I’m of the second opinion and I don’t mind participating. If I am forced to though then this ruins everything. God forbid I will be seen talking to some sad cunt due to an outdated social code. We have gadgets now that makes these rules obsolete. We can cocoon ourselves behind our screens and headphones; we can politely ignore social advances.
Outside of Moscow the forests flew by. They looked lush in June’s greenery. Great sumptuous trees bayed over the algae covered ponds; all shades melded together. The midday rain still remained hanging tentatively in the leaves. What a sight! The harmony of nature. Surely this is the greatest advantage of traveling by train, you go on a private path through the heart of a country. A plane sees nothing, a car sees petrol stations, a boat sees fish. A train sees all; nature, cities, farms, the whole beauty and ugliness of the world from the window. If you’re lucky you even get people waving to you.
I could hear the murmur of amiable conversation over my music. An occasional joke would spark off a domino scatter of laughter. At each instance I would twitch my next towards them yet was careful not to establish any eye contact. I felt mildly irritated by the fact I was allowing myself to be distracted from the beauty outside the window. The four of them, up to now engrossed in each others company suddenly quietened down. Those on the aisle looked down the carriage as a single strong and calm voice bowled through the air. I took my headphones out, yawning in fake restlessness. I wanted to hear the voice which had shut down the friendly conversation, some kind of of leader no doubt. I quickly learned that they were a tour group. I suppose it explained why they were so chummy already; perhaps they weren’t weird freaks, uninhibitedly and sickeningly friendly.
By the end of the leaders speech I had discovered their true nature. This was a Christian group and I was slap-bang in the middle of it. My eyes widened in horror. It was all so obvious now. The friendliness was so natural, pure and virtuous. I saw the crosses glistening under the artificial light and the bibles scattered on tables. I recoiled in my seat, hunching into the corner. There was the reason for their strange behaviour. By now they were mingling all through the carriage. New, beaming faces strolled past me by the minute. They were inexplicably happy and there was not a clinking bottle within earshot. What was this strange cult doing going to Riga and why did they think OK to take over this whole carriage. Why was I not warned? What did these freaks think of me? Admittedly, they seemed like nice people. They were happy. But why did they not follow our social codes, so brazenly infringing on each others space like an extended family of sixty members. I became scared and a little offended. With the help of one of the Christians to unfold me bed I retreated up top and once again looked at the passing countryside to calm my nerves.
I wondered what the Muslims would be like. Inherently scarier due to the colour of their skin; what is different is always scary since it is unknown. These people were weird but known quantities. They were sheep that had strayed from the flock. What about the Buddhists? The only religion I had seriously considered, if you can call it a religion. Peaceful but not patronizing. They had clearly reached a higher plane, you could see it on their little yellow faces. Their serenity is palpable. All I could see and hear here was a nervous devotion to their God’s principles. These weirdos didn’t embrace their ideals, they just followed them for the eschatological reward.
What if this was a cult sect? I didn’t know much about Christianity, but I had heard about a lot of suicide cults a la Jonestown. The absurd thought that I was on a death train crossed my mind. We could be about to plunge off a cliff. These cunts would get eternal salvation but I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t be joining them. Sweat began to creep from my skin onto my eyebrows. The countryside had changed little, it was still stunning and a welcome distraction from the unsettling events unfolding before my eyes. Churches perched on hilltops in the distance, sparkling in the early evening glow. I loved to visit them before, much like people visit the zoo. To look and to observe these strange creatures. When you are locked in the cage with them it is not so enjoyable.
What if this was a conversion mission? Not only had the Russian cunts enslaved the Latvians before, now they wanted to take their personal freedoms again! Maybe it was even me they wanted to convert! My stomach turned inside me and I rolled over on my simple bed. I had thirteen more hours before I could get off. I tried to think about Riga, a city I knew nothing about, and look forward to the adventure I would have there for the next few days.
The moon was high in the sky, a half crescent staring me in the face. It was much more comforting than what was on the other side of me. I gazed into it deeply and practiced my trick of turning my mind blank. It is far easier to escape unpleasant experiences by ignoring them than to think about them. A new man entered the scene, by the looks and sounds of him the most charismatic man alive. Every word from him was waited on, replied to with tweaked cheeks and flashing teeth. I had to leave and went for a walk. I had seen a restaurant carriage from the platform earlier – what now seemed like a lifetime ago.
Moving down the train, the other carriages reinstated my sanity. Little kids peered out the windows, their tiny feet arched up on a rail. So engrossed were they in the outside world that I didn’t see their beautiful faces of awe. Parents were playing cards and drinking like good normal people should do. Who really knew who these people were though? These Christian cunts had ambushed me the train. The signs were there admittedly, but all the same it was a surprise. Maybe these regular people would surprise me as well.
The bar lady in the restaurant was beautiful and I considered trying to chat her up; maybe I could have a good story to tell to Liz, in addition to the religious onslaught. I decided not to though, I was in no state to come across charming to anyone. I was a bundle of nerves, claustrophobic and scared. I was sure that she could tell this. I chose three Latvian beers to acclimatise to my destination and paid her in Rubles. I had no idea what the Latvian currency was, but I was sure I would soon find out. I wandered slowly back to my base with the beers gently rocking in a bag at my side.
I opened my first beer an turned opened a new book: After Dark by Haruki Murakami. Quick glances of disappointment glared at the hiss of escaping air. I looked back unflinchingly. Having had the conversation briefly interrupted by their judgement, it quickly returned to the topic of how one of them looked identical to a sportsman. I found the very topic bizarre, and even more so from how amusing they found this observation to be. I tried to ignore them and read but I became irate at the inanity. These people can’t discuss anything interesting save they offend God. It is human nature to want to fuck and to drink. These freaks couldn’t enjoy either of these basic rights, denied to them from their overseer. Such a cull of human nature, a repression of our earthly rights to gain celestial rewards. They were pretending to be something they were not. The moonlight was becoming dim and many had already retired to bed, exhausted from their thrilling observations.
I had to to do something about this. There had been a great injustice to me, invading my personal space. Also, a great disrespect had been served to our social codes. It had left me chilled yet they were even more smug than before! The cheek of it! I spotted a young Christian maiden leaving the carriage and made up my mind. I had eleven hours left till Riga and knew that I could not put it any longer. I waited a few seconds to decoy the others and tried to pull a curtain over my face to hide my emotions. Rage was flowing under my skin, lust and appetite were trying to pry out of my mouth, somehow I managed to keep cool and look normal. I arose with my beer bottle and followed her out the carriage.
Waiting outside the toilet I listened to the flow and splash of her piss against the porcelain. She flushed and spent some time making herself beautiful again. I was hopping from one foot to the other, bubbling with excitement. I swigged at the bottle in my hand and steadied myself.
She came out and gave me a huge smile. I lunged at her mouth with my hand; plugging her lips. Her eyes engorged as I had hoped; I wanted to see the fear in her heart. I grabbed her waist with my other hand and pulled her back into the toilet, locking the door behind us. She struggled and lashed out. I felt no pain, I could not in my state of excitement. That tang when you do something bad. I could feel it in every cell of my body. This was something that those people will never experience. I pulled down her trousers and pants exposing an enormous unkempt bush. She screamed and I panicked. The bottle came down and smashed on her head, she crumpled onto the toilet, her forehead came to a rest on the seat. I took the remnants of my beer and wet her vagina with my fingers. Slowly, savouring every moment I stroked myself until I was hard as stone and hoisted her onto the sink. The tap pushed into her hips and she slumped down into the recess. I put myself in her and felt the vengeance of two hundred crusades coursing through me into a single point. Her face was pleasantly still. I looked at it occasionally in between catching glimpses of my gnashing face in the mirror. I didn’t care about the consequences as I pumped away. Maybe I would go to prison. Maybe I would be forgiven by these loonies and treated as a lost soul. Whatever happened I didn’t care. Justice was being served.
Imagine you live in a suffocating world. You are trapped. You can see all that is around you; your friends, your family, your love interests, but to interact with them is impossible. Sure you have sex, you see your mother and you go out and get pissed with your friends, but how much of is tangible? How much is real?
I was hesitant to read this at first given Plath’s ‘depressed’ reputation. I imagined the book would be a self-pitying, thinly veiled depicition of this troubled artist’s own life. My only experience of her was through her poetry (duh) at school, when I had to memorise ‘Ariel’ a tale of a girl’s sexual awakening through the medium of a horse. Or at least that’s what my teacher led us to believe. I actually quite liked this poem, although the history we were given on Plath didn’t warm me to her.
So the idea is simple, summed up the title of the book. This sense of detachment permeates through the book. Esther Greenwood is a university student, who ostensibly lives an interesting and fulfilling life. Yet these experiences that she he has in NYC fail to make her happy, they fail to engage her, and there is always someone around the corner to knock her back down. The bell jar is always around her. Whether it be from elder mentors or her mother, it always seems like poor little Esther can’t catch a break.
Is it pathetic self-pitying or is there something to be said for the girl who has little control over her emotions, in fact, over her own sanity. The style is nice, it mimics the disjointed thoughts and enthusiastic naivety that we expect of a student. It also depicts the depressed attitude that people of this age normally read events with very well. I don’t think Plath was shouting out for attention via Esther, but obviously her own state would have helped her to empathise.
One thing I particularly liked was how the insanity crept up on you so subtly. It all seemed so natural for these events to happen, and Esther herself did not seemed fazed whatsoever. It really showed how easy it would be to slip into such a situation, without quite realising the gravity of what is happening. Rather; “Oh, these nice men are taking me away for some rest.”
Sadly Sylvia Plath killed herself shortly after this book was published, and this was her only attempt at a novel (at least one that was published). A talented woman, clearly haunted by her own demon. Scary to think that we can see them in this book, haunting Esther. A thinly-veiled allusion to Plath’s life? Yes. Self-pitying? I’m not convinced. I think it is just brtually honest, which makes it all the more moving. I finished the book feeling sorry for Plath. If these demons haunt you too then God help you.
Post-apocalypse. Desolate. Hostile. Scarce. Tropes that have been handed down from the political forebearers of this genre to the current western one-man-hero, fuck the world and my surprisingly emotion backstory, badass mavericks. Is it time for an end to this conceit? Probably.
We begin with a man and his partner (the reader takes her position) leaving his castle in an unnamed land with an unnamed event (maybe there wasn’t one) to try their luck elsewhere. Before they even get the chance they are forced back by the ‘lieutenant’, who is eager to capture this stony fortress for herself and her group of sidekicks. Deceit and subversion reign throughout the novel, in a power-play between the once powerful Abel (narrator) and the lieutenant, who enters the castle and claims the throne.
Banks does well to capture the sense of immorality which would surely be prevalent in such a time. A dog-eat-dog mantra controls all, few attachments are made and any promises are taken with a grain of salt. Underneath all the words are currents of doubt and suspicion. Walking through the post-party slumber with the narrator, the desire to slay the sleeping guests in his castle is palpable. We want these people dead, they are unlawful in a time without law, they are disrespectful in a time with no respect and they are foolish and trustworthy of a man who had been enslaved. Obviously we want him to kill them, but he doesn’t. Why not? Because he has grown to like them? No. Becuase he is scared? No. Because he has emotional integrity? Maybe. Because his life is already over? Yes.
A post-apocalyptic wasteland is no place to start again, the protagonists frail attempt to do so is met immediately with denial. His hope is shattered and he is returned to his beginnings, albeit under the control of someone (it doesn’t matter who it really is, he is made the slave in his own home, it could be Ghandi and you’d still hate him).
His backstory is overly sexual (what relevance is there for this, please fill me in if you know), and doesn’t impart much useful information about Abel. For such a descriptive and sparse novel it seems stange to include so many memories of past which do not enhance the plot. This sparse style of writing (see ‘The Road’) does obviously help to induce the mood of such a time, of low rations, or primal thoughts, yet why attach it to seepingly emotional backstory. Yes, it contrasts our hero to the other animals but he himself is just as much a pawn in the story. He reacts to events with no control, he kills from his head rather than his heart.
The best part of this novel – the hate. It is really tangible and Banks doesn’t ham-fist it down our throats, it slowly bubbles up between the lieutenant and Abel. It is what drives the novel. A post-apocalyptic novel? Yes. One about revenge and hatred? More so.