THE LUNATIC, THE LOVER, AND THE POET / Myrlin A. Hermes. 2010 (363 pgs)
First Ten Pages = 2.75% of total book
Preamble: This is the first preamble I’ve written on this site, for this is the first book I’ve commented on that is yet to be published. The author stumbled across First10pages.com from a Facebook posting and asked if I’d be interested in including her book. Wow! Sure. Here it is.
First Sentences: (from the Prologue entitled: Magicians And Messengers)“Even the face you will remember is not her face at all, but only its reflection in the mirror: painted white, black lines inked in around her lowered eyes.”
(from Chapter One entitled; What Is Carried Across) “A translation. That is what the gentleman originally wanted, nothing more.”
I also want to note that the title comes from a speech in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the speech is quoted on the preface page prior to the prologue.
Prevailing Narrative Voice: Well this is interesting! Not only is this short prologue set in the present tense (the first line is set in a future tense), but the narrator is speaking in the second person (gender-unspecific) voice about his or her childhood self. The first chapter clearly shifts to the past tense – as in recalling the events of a story from a single point in time – but remains in first person voice, which is male.
What the reader learns in the first paragraphs: I recall being confused during my first reading of the prologue. It is an intimate scene of a mother reading from a much-loved storybook. The most obvious story element is that the child is enraptured with her stories, most of which would seem to be about the child’s father. Regardless of which one she chooses, the much loved, leather bound book belonged to the child’s father.
What the reader learns in the first ten pages: As the prologue is from the child’s perspective, and that the child is drifting off to sleep, it is understandable that there is an element of slipping away and perhaps why I felt somewhat confused. Other than being in a bedroom, the story could be taking place in any period of the English speaking, story-telling world. The first chapter is much more helpful in that “Wittenberg” and “philosopher” are placed in the first paragraph (and the placement of the Shakespeare quote at the beginning) clues me in to the fact that we are probably in Germany in the time of Hamlet (plus the headline on the publicity postcard is “Was Hamlet Gay”), and yet even by page ten of the first chapter, I’m still not clear on who the (male) first-person narrator is. What we concretely learn in the first ten pages of chapter one is that a student of philosophy has been retained to translate a romantic story for an important gentleman, the Baron de Maricourt, who wants to impress his guests with the presentation of a play at a Midsummer Ball. (btw: the quote at the beginning is from the end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, during the part when the nobles are trying to figure out what’s been going on in the forest.) I found it difficult to grasp exactly what was going on in these early pages because I didn’t have a clear understanding of where the action was taking place or who the main character was. It is clear that he is a writer and that he is frustrated, but so was William Shakespeare in “Shakespeare In Love”. I also think my confusion was partly due to my understanding that Hermes’ story uses the frame of Hamlet and Shakespearean literature as major plot points and in my head I was trying to plug-in parallels from my understanding of Hamlet and other Shakespearean plots. Fortunately, six pages into chapter one the story returns (after the main character procrastinates on his translating job and cruises the apprentice trimming the quills) to back-story information presented in the prologue. The most surprising point is the return of the leather bound story book, which the reader discovers is blank. Blank! The reader learns that the, as of yet, unnamed boy grew up in a monastery, the son of a whore who was burned for sorcery. For this reader this is where the story really begins. At this point the reader becomes emotionally engaged with the young man and his idiosyncratic behavior. It is here that the metaphor of an open, blank book coalesces with the current story of the young man.
Character: As mentioned above it is difficult to grasp who this young man is until the reader is given particular information on his present situation as compared to his past. I believe this reinforces the point I have made in other postings on how comforting it is to a reader when the story is located in a specific place and the narrator/character’s relationship to that place is defined. The boy in the prologue is the object of the prologue, while his mother is the subject. The verb is reading a bedtime story. The young man of chapter one (and beyond, I presume) is an outsider, which is an excellent point of perspective for a narrator, and yet the mysterious beginning kept this reader apart from the story until it became personalized by the narrator’s connection to the prologue information. By the end of the first ten pages the only information about the narrator and his state of mind is provided by the narrator, who we know has a strong connection to fantasy in that he reads stories from a book that has no writing. This narrator might be unreliable.
Setting: Wittenberg. After Martin Luther’s church door posting (1517) and during the life of William Shakespeare (d.1616). There is little setting description in the opening pages. The boarding house where the main character lives is said to be on the side of campus near the noisy road with ox carts. There is a descriptive passage of the apprentice who is cutting quills into pens, but there is not a lot of specific visual imagery employed in the opening pages. My imagination filled in some of the movie images from “Shakespeare in Love” in the spaces that felt empty.
Plot & Expectations beyond the tenth page: Who is this narrator? This is element number one that I want provided very soon after page ten. With a total of 365 pages there is plenty of space to draw out a complete picture of all the crucial elements, however a reader only reads one page at a time and their aggregate knowledge of a book is the page they are reading and the pages that preceded it. The rest is silence.
Random Comments: Well, I found out that the main character’s is Hamlet’s best bud, Horatio, and the only one of the main characters left standing at the end of Shakespeare’s play. Included below is the book description of Ms. Hermes’ story from HarperCollins.com.
I enjoyed the beginning of Ms. Hermes story, regardless of what I’ve written above. Her story is very readable and she sticks to a narrow set of facts in the early pages of her novel which keeps the reader’s attention focused on the world of the story as she is creating it. Based on the little bit of PR information on the postcard that came with manuscript, this is the beginning of a very clever story that asks, “Was Hamlet Gay?” Hamlet is the longest and most written about of Shakespeare’s plays. I’m looking forward to finding out which side of the closet door Ms. Hermes’ story places him.
From HarperCollins.com regarding Myrlin A. Hermes’ story THE LUNATIC, THE LOVER, AND THE POET, in stores January 26, 2010: “When a freelance translation job turns into a full-scale theatrical production, Horatio arranges for the theater-loving prince to act in the play-disguised as the heroine! This attracts the attention of Horatio′s patroness, the dark and manipulative Lady Adriana. A voracious and astute reader of both books and people, she performs her own seductions to test whether the “platonic true-love” described in his poems is truly so platonic. But when a mysterious rival poet calling himself “Will Shakespeare” begins to court both Prince Hamlet and his Dark Lady, Horatio is forced to choose between his skepticism and his love.”