lip lit: isobelle carmody, metro winds
I don’t like reading fantasy. It is not that I don’t have an imagination; it is simply a matter of plausibility. I don’t find fantasy plausible and I would much rather read about something with some connection to the real world (no matter how small) than something set in a completely different world. I was worried when I picked up Isobelle Carmody’s Metro Winds. I so wanted to like this book, yet the blurb made me wary and so I turned to the first page with caution, and began to read: ‘So there was a girl. Young but not too young. A face as unformed as an egg, so that one could not tell if she would turn out to be fair or astonishingly ugly.’ Somehow, the book had passed my expectations in those first three sentences, and I was hooked.
Metro Winds is a collection of five short stories, each more enchanted than the last, and while the stories all have fantastical elements, the majority are set firmly in the real world. Carmody’s writing is full of beautiful, carefully crafted imagery. No words are wasted. There is no description for description’s sake, but images which flow across the page, slowly revealing the secrets of the setting and the story. The five stories all share a fantastical reality, yet that is where the similarities end and Carmody weaves five very different magical tales.
My favourite stories were the first, Metro Winds, and the last, The Man Who Lost His Shadow. Metro Winds eases the reader into the collection, slowly luring from a familiar world to a magical one as a young girl is sent to live with her aunt in a faraway place. There, in her foreign world, she uncovers a world which feels familiar to her but which is alien to the reader, in the most unusual of places. The two worlds collide in this first story,
illustrating how easy it is to slip into such a world if one is willing to see it, and questions why people are so afraid to stop and look.
The Man Who Lost His Shadow is a quirky little story. The protagonist is distraught at the loss of his shadow and decides to go searching for it, no matter the cost. Following such a fantastical story made a man’s search for his shadow seem quite reasonable, and this is what I love most about stories which sit on the cusp of reality and fantasy: the ability for the author to make you believe that the situation is actually possible. I must remember to check for my own shadow’s whereabouts the next time I am out in the sun.
The one story in the book I had a really hard time with was The Wolf Prince. It is the longest story in the book, at over one hundred pages, and thrusts the reader into an unfamiliar world immediately, instead of gently coaxing and leading the reader forward as the other stories do. Carmody’s whimsical writing got lost in the fantastical elements of this world. While her imagery is like a layer of fresh paint over the real world, in a made-up world which is already foreign the words did little more than communicate to the reader the rules and nature of the world. Even so, I persisted with the story and it must be said that about three-quarters of the way through the plot had completely pulled me in and I needed to know what happened in the end.
Metro Winds is such a beautiful read. I feel deprived that I haven’t taken the time to read any of Isobelle Carmody’s work before, because it is definitely my loss. I can’t remember the last time I read a book where the words flowed so effortlessly across the page, and it definitely softened my usually strong dislike for fantastical works. The fine line Carmody walks between reality and fantasy becomes so blurry that I was willing to believewhat I was reading and didn’t find myself questioning the magical elements in the stories. And that is precisely what fantastical works should strive to achieve.
Allen and Unwin, $24.99