Sometimes the body count in my reading is high.
Of late, the un-body count has been rising.
I noticed the presence in W. G. Sebald, when I began reading Austerlitz (2001; Translated from the German, 2011) earlier this year.
In the photographs which accompany his narrative, there are no figures, but the images have a haunted feel to them.
“One has the impression, she said, of something stirring in them, as if one caught small sighs of despair, gémissements de désespoir was her expression, said Austerlitz, as if the pictures had a memory of their own and remembered us, remembered the roles that we, the survivors, and those no longer among us had played in our former lives.”
In Sebald’s works, there are strange and unsettling connections between landscape and memory, photographs and experiences.
In David Mitchell’s fiction, there are connections of all kinds and, in The Bone Clocks (2014), there are not only connections with his earlier novels, but there are more connections within the volume than his readers might expect to find.
Mitchell’s narrative unfolds across six segments. Each is in a different year between1984 to 2043 and each in a different narrative voice.
But characters you expected would have disappeared? They return.
And, then, there are others.
“The problem is, she’s right. I do feel them. This place is… What’s another word for ‘haunted,’ Mr. Novelist?’”
In John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Harbor (2008; Translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy, 2008) there are actual missing people.
The story begins with a family excursion on a remote Swedish island, from which a six-year-old girl disappears.
It is winter and her parents can literally retrace her steps, through the snow, but, then, there is nothing.
As with his novel Let the Right On In, there is a mix of raw and recognizable human pain with the bizarre.
“But this was not Maja. The person who was Maja, who had memories and pictures and who could talk, had come to him, had somehow managed to escape into the sea. What was sitting by the bed was only her body, or that part of her that was necessary to enable him to see what he wanted to see.”
The entire community of Domarö searches for Maja, but in Jen Sookfong Lee’s The Conjoined (2016) the disappearance of two sisters in Vancouver’s Chinatown in 1988 is barely news.
Beyond their immediate family, only a few people are even aware that Casey and Jamie Cheng went missing.
One of those people is Jessica Campbell, whose mother has recently died, leaving behind the bodies of two girls in the bottoms of the family freezers.
Suspenseful and tightly paced, the atmosphere is charged and emotions raw.
“And they woke up in the morning pissed off again. It was an ever-expanding mass and they didn’t know how to stop it, or if they should. Anger, the older one reasoned, was better than sadness. They could think. They could laugh. They could push the hurt around. And so they held onto the rage, and it was sharp and dangerous.”
Angie Abdou’s In Case I Go is written in a spare and compelling style.
The story is set against a legacy of pain, as ten-year-old Eli moves with his family to Coalton, where the building of a high-end subdivision has unearthed a graveyard belonging to the Ktunaxa.
The Ktunaxa’s homeland and band members have been exploited and abused for generations and Eli’s relationship with neighbour Sam’s niece, Mary, unearths something else long-buried – a relationship between his grandfather and another Mary – which reflects these themes and poses some difficult questions.
Insightful and character-driven, the novel is carefully layered and engaging.
“‘If you want to keep coming over to my place, you and I should steer clear of my sister’s story.’ But I would like to know more about quiet Mary’s mom. Not my Mary, who can say one thing with her eyes at the same time she says another thing with her mouth. No. Now I’m dizzy again with all the Marys.”
In her graphic memoir, Duran Duran, Imelda Marcos and Me (2017), Lorina Mapa shares memories of her childhood, growing up in the Philippines in the 1980s, inspired by returning home to attend her father’s funeral.
Along the way, like Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, readers receive an education on politics and culture.
(There’s also an awesome discography in the appendix. Like, seriously awesome.)
There are many disturbing stories about the Marcos’ regime, including one with ghosts, surrounding the construction of the Manila Film Centre, which workers had to rush to complete, resulting in more than a hundred deaths from scaffolding shortly before opening night.
“Ever since then, ghosts have been sighted roaming the building. It’s said the Manila Film Centre is one of the most haunted places in the Philippines.”