This week has been lovingly consumed by Camilla Grudova’s The Doll’s Alphabet. A collection of short stories with a series of re-articulated and grotesque motifs concerning the strangeness of bodies, sewing machines and unappealing tinned food, and odd systems of oppressive society.
The stories feature characters who accept the world as it exists for them, there’s no rebellion against the systems they are trapped in, beyond minor and limited expressions of civic disobedience — even when they bring a tormentor to a violent end, it is presented as acceptable within the system that they exist within.
In Waxy our heroine lives in a world where women are put through school merely to work in a factory, while the men are educated until they are old enough to take Exams, and earn big Exam prizes. The men are generally coddled, and the society is built around their needs alone. When she finds Paul, an unregistered man, she finds herself happy to an extent. Despite their efforts they have a child, birthed with a bowl movement and soon they are blackmailed by their neighbours.
And so on.
It’s all presented in a very matter of fact way, to explain the way the world exists for these people. In Mermaid little is made of the capturing of a mermaid (who isn’t a romantic top/bottom half, just a general 50/50 spread of fishiness and humanity) to keep the protagonist’ very tall brother company.
A kind of body-horror abounds, but not one that sets and real expectations — there is no rightness in shape, but more a kind of obscure sculpture garden of persons that you wander through. For example, the protagonist’s father in Mermaid was so tall that when he died they wanted twice the amount of money for his coffin. In a fit of stubborness, the son donated his body to science and retained a finger, to be buried in a child’s coffin instead.
This is the flavour of the book. A kind of easy acceptance of the horrible compromise of peoples under strange circumstances. In Edward, Do Not Pamper The Dead — Edward’s parent’s die, but he and his wife keep ti a secret so they should not be assigned others to live with them. When the authorities find out, they are allocated a tiny woman referred to as The Child, and Horace. This unspoken of presence that invades their lives as a force of nature rather than an agreement made by active parties looms over all of the larger society elements in the collection.
They cannot be free of their oppression because they often cannot understand it to be oppression.
The book contains hundreds of tiny moments where something disgusting is switched for another disgusting thing. For example, Horace picks is nose and attaches the bogeys to the wall behind his bed. This is obviously disgusting, but Edward regrets buying Horace the present of liquorice because it turns those bogeys stuck to the wall black, as if it was swarming with flies.
Aside from the powers that loom over the protagonists of the collection — there are the returning themes of women finding a kind of self, comfort, truth, or form. Like in the opening story, Unstitiching:
There are a few stories like this in the collection. Simply a telling of a history. A report on a movement. There’s a deft picking at the neurosis of the world seeing women who exist as themselves. The idea that there is a way to remove the oppressive systems around people, and unstitching can take place that is so fundamental it would be impossible to turn back the unspooling of the movement — a new reality that becomes obvious and in that replaces the old reality.
I don’t know if I made it very clear that I loved the collection? To clarify: I loved it.
I do need some help though. I simply don’t understand the title piece:
Let me know what I’ve missed?
Today’s song is 11 Ecm by Carsten Lindholm:
Thank you for reading Etch To Their Own. It was written by @CJEggett with a very full stomach. It was proofread by no one. Reply to this email to tell me your favourite strange birth in the Camilla Grudova collection, Tweet at me to tell me about a typo, join me on medium to let me know that kind of masochist your are. Remember, a picture a day will keep the thing from It Follows away because it mostly creeps up on you from behind and you’ll probably see it in your front-facing camera?