M. John Harrison's Things That Never Happen

i totally love that the copy of M. John Harrison's Things That Never Happen i got *does not* have the introduction by China Mieville. now, me, i tend to be one of those freak book lovers who utterly dig all the ephemeral shit of a book--everything from prefaces to introductions, forewords, afterwords, footnotes, endnotes, acknowledgements, bibliographies, blurbs--i have a particular thing for blurbs, whether or not i agree with them, i don't quite know why--author's notes, appendices, those brief author (auto)biography thingies, notes on fonts--i don't necessarily read them all, but i do like having these 'other things' to browse through when i need to take a mental breath from the main content of a book.

M. John Harrison's fiction, however, best speaks for itself. i haven't read Mr Mieville's introduction, but no matter how much i respect Mr Mieville's talents as a writer and have no doubt that he has managed an intelligent, insightful and enlightening introduction to Mr Harrison's work, i have the feeling that any sort of introduction to this book would be a major disservice.

perhaps the best, most acceptable introduction to Mr Harrison's fiction in my mind is the one blurb, provided by Iain M. Banks, that is included with my particular copy of this book. printed on the back cover, Mr Banks says:

M. John Harrison is the only writer on Earth equally attuned to the essential strangeness both of quantum physics and the attritional banalities of modern urban life

now, i don't know if he really is the *only* writer on Earth equally attuned etc, etc, (in fact, i rather doubt that) but Mr Banks has pretty much summed up the wonder of Mr Harrison's work. but if i may add, what may possibly set Mr Harrison apart from other writers who deal with similar material (Mr Banks himself, for instance, has said much on the 'attritional banalities of modern urban life') is that Mr Harrison succeeds in communicating this 'essential strangeness' to my mind, even barring the strangeness of the actual subject matter of each story, by his distinctive prose alone.

possibly my favorite thing about Mr Harrison's prose is the way he deals with dialogue. the way each line flows with the rest of the text without losing the distinctive voice of the character speaking the line. the way each 'spoken' line grazes the main text, grazes the characters and rather than bouncing between them strikes them tangentially, wounding rather than impaling. the words therefore somehow manage to be both evanescent and razor-hard. characters talk 'at' rather than 'to' each other.

the grotesques from Mervyn Peake's Titus books perform similarly random feats of tangential conversation, but in those books the effect is jarring, like the noises and visions of a circus or carnival during its peak hours; in Mr Harrison's fiction, the voices seem to echo long after the people have left, the lights have gone down with the curtains, and the carnival has called it a night.

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