At the Crossroads, by Andre Gal (9:42)

IOD-AtCrossroadsToday we discover that mimicking the styles of the past can leave you on the shelf with the novels of the past.

What I gleaned about the stories: Characters from classic Gothic Romances don’t fit perfectly into modern life, but the juxtapositions produce engaging moments.

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WTF #1: Convoluted word order: “Naked he was never, for as a punishment for a dissolute life he was deprived of the visibility of his body.”

Analysis: I hit this sentence and spun off into the bushes at the first comma. The second time I read it, I worked out he was never naked because he had been punished with invisibility but was already out of the story. As I had already surfaced, I read it a third time, drawn – like the protagonists of this collection – to stare at the wreckage that marked my own accident.

Viewing the sentence on it’s own as a piece of art, I decided I still wasn’t enthralled. Whereas the surrounding prose had a slightly arch style that enhanced the homage to classic ghost stories, this sentence had moved beyond archaism into obscurity.

WTF #2: Fake and shallow mystery.

Analysis: This occurred part way through a story with several point-of-view characters. A new section starts with references to the young traveller arriving. Then, two-thirds of the the way through the first paragraph, there is a throw-away sentence saying the traveller is Marcel; who both the primary point-of-view character and the protagonist of the story.

Based on the stories up to this point, the author deliberately deviates from normal practice rather than not knowing it. So I didn’t immediately put this failure to lead with the point-of-view character down to an error.

However, I did wonder why Marcel wasn’t identified immediately. So I went back to the start of the paragraph and started again. After the second reading, I concluded the only reason was that the inhabitants of the town he reached didn’t know who he was.

But, the story didn’t do anything with this lack of recognition. The mystery was solved within the same paragraph, so – however intriguing his arrival might have been for the characters – I conversely felt the down-swing of disinterest.

This not sharing trivial knowledge to make the reader’s conclusions even less certain than the character’s – almost dramatic anti-irony – occurs in several classic Gothic Romances, so I assume the author intended to match their style.

Having both lost some interest and my trust the twists were plot significant, I moved on.

WTF #3: Unclear metadata in punctuation.

Analysis: The story uses an unreliable narrator to leave the reader guessing over whether the narrator is dead or not. Unlike the previous stories, the narrator’s speech is wrapped in dashes not quotation marks, and only the narrator’s speech is directly reported. This deviation from the norm raised a pleasing feeling that the author was flirting with the fourth wall: was the use of dashes a further clue the narrator was explaining away their spectral state, or a trap for the overly judgemental reader?

This feeling was crushed by the sudden change from dashes to quotation marks combined with the direct speech of another character, followed a paragraph later by the resumption of dashes. Instead of continuing with the story, I stopped to consider whether the quotation marks were of deep significance or no significance at all. On the third reading of the passage, I still wasn’t certain what the punctuation change signified if anything.

Now aware I was considering semiotics not the story, I pulled the plug.

Overall, the stories felt like reading Gothic Romance. I like Gothic Romances, but find it hard to maintain immersion when reading them. So, as two of the three losses of immersion show, it is not a style to mimic if you want to suck the reader in.

Tiem Mechine, by Alex Hansen (24:11)
Transit Point, by A.S. Webster (9:15)

About the author

Dave Higgins has worked in law and IT for both public and private sector organisations. When not pursuing these hobbies, he writes poetry and speculative fiction. He was born in Wiltshire, England. Raised by a librarian, he started reading shortly after birth and has not stopped since. He currently lives in Bristol with his wife, Nicola, his cats, Jasper and Una, and many shelves of books.