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Spill Simmer Falter Wither
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2018 Book Discussions > Spill Simmer Falter Wither - Spill & Simmer (spoilers allowed) (Jan 2018)

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Hugh (bodachliath) | 2625 comments Mod
This topic is the spoiler thread for the first half of the book (Spill and Simmer). Feel free to discuss events in these parts but please do not discuss what happens in the second half.

A few starter questions:
What were your initial impressions of the narrator and of One Eye? Why do you think he only named himself indirectly? Did you enjoy Baume's writing style, and if so what caught your eye?


message 2: by Lily (last edited Jan 02, 2018 02:40PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2471 comments Hugh wrote: "...Why do you think he only named himself indirectly?..."

I was a little irritated that virtually every review gave away this little tidbit of mystery. It seemed to me that his little riddle was a way of asserting a dual nature about himself. Himself and his shadow self? The question being, which was which?

In restarting today, I noticed how many names for various types of grasses (and weeds?) appear. That reminded me of Reservoir 13 . For all America's vast prairies, a similar medley in an American novel has not come to mind. (I should probably re-check PrairyErth -- more nonfiction than novel although filled with stories.)

I was more comfortable with recognizing the voice to be largely one of a running conversation with OneEye. Will be interesting to observe how that holds up. Wonder what it was like to write that way and to sustain that perspective. Also, to consider what it does to the storytelling.


Whitney | 2102 comments Mod
He does the indirect describing of his name in the first few pages of the book, I don't think it was meant to be too much of a mystery. Interestingly he says the exact same thing when he declines to reveal his father's name, that it's "just another strange sound sent from the mouths of men to confuse you, to distract from your vocabulary of commands."

I think there's a few things behind it. One is just the way Ray looks at the world, isolating so many minute details, in a way names are just labels that hide the essence of things. (I get the idea he's a little 'spectrum', with his inability to connect to people, his obsessive attention and analysis of detail, and his tendency to do things like make anagrams out of words on labels.) I also thinks its part of Ray's tendency to try and make himself invisible to everyone except One Eye.

Another review pointed out that he never says the word "dog" either, unless you count when the lady with the Shih Tzu is screaming about the dog warden.


Hugh (bodachliath) | 2625 comments Mod
Whitney. Well spotted! Perhaps this is an indication that he values canine life above humanity. I thought it was interesting because the blurb has no hesitation about naming him as Ray.
Incidentally there is very little human interaction in A Line Made by Walking though its narrator is not as isolated as this one.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2316 comments Initially I thought the narrator was much younger, who tried to avoid being put into foster care. That impression did not last long and I expect it was my preset for the situation. It did take longer for me to appreciate that he was not so much mentally slow as socially undeveloped. One Eye acted pretty normally for an abused dog and one that was raised to track animals.


Whitney | 2102 comments Mod
I agree that One Eye was very accurately depicted. Sadly, in a shelter around here, there's almost zero chance that a dog like that wouldn't be euthanized.

I'll just add that badger baiting is far more brutal than just tracking and worrying animals. Do an image search on badger baiting dogs, but be prepared for some horrific images.


Lily (joy1) | 2471 comments Whitney wrote: "I'll just add that badger baiting is far more brutal than just tracking and worrying animals. ..."

Any guess why the author chose such a dog for the story, beyond that such a dog would be susceptible to the damage OneEye had sustained? Is there symbolism or other literary device here?


Lily (joy1) | 2471 comments Whitney wrote: "He does the indirect describing of his name in the first few pages of the book, I don't think it was meant to be too much of a mystery...."

But a ray (of light) suggests such a different character than a ray, that denizen of the deep, would seem to do. Or am I being swayed by concurrently reading The Golden Shadow for another group reading exercise.


Whitney | 2102 comments Mod
Lily wrote: "Whitney wrote: "I'll just add that badger baiting is far more brutal than just tracking and worrying animals. ..."

Any guess why the author chose such a dog for the story, beyond that such a dog w..."


He was based on a dog that Baume adopted.


message 10: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 181 comments description

In summer 2011, I adopted Wink, a one-eyed Patterdale-terrier-cross from a local rescue sanctuary. I chose him out of a line-up of perfectly sweet and obedient dogs because I have always been irresistibly drawn to damaged things. I was told that he’d been used for badger baiting and was found roaming the countryside with his eyeball hanging out. An anonymous donor paid his vets bills, but didn’t want to take him home.

Like most dogs who have been mistreated, he was nervous and unpredictable. But Wink came into my life during a period when I felt nervous and unpredictable too. His ‘rehabilitation’ distracted me from my lostness, lending structure to my purposeless days. The dog I thought I was saving, in many ways, ended up saving me. When it came to writing about him, I wanted a narrator who represented an extremity of my isolation and loneliness, whose life could be more meaningfully transformed by a delinquent terrier, and this was how Ray came about.


The town in which the novel is set is also very closely based on Whitegate where Baume lived at the time.


message 11: by Hugh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2625 comments Mod
Thanks Paul - a very interesting article.

Re Whitney's point on the brutality of badger baiting - this will already be familiar to those of us who read The Dig last year.


message 12: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 181 comments It is interesting how closely Baume based her novels - well the two she has written - on her own real experience, places she has lived.

And yet this isn't autofiction, as it is clearly purely fictional. She adheres to the maxim of Javier Marias (itself borrowed from Karen Blixen):

When you describe or introduce into a fiction something that really happened, the only acceptable and credible way of doing it is to pass it through the imagination and be capable of telling it as if it hadn’t happened.


message 13: by Lily (last edited Jan 04, 2018 07:19PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2471 comments Paul wrote: "yet this isn't autofiction, as it is clearly purely fictional. She adheres to the maxim of Javier Marias (itself borrowed from Karen Blixen)..."

Paul, why do you say this is "clearly purely fictional"? What are the boundaries between fiction and nonfiction you are using? (I'd agree with "fictional," it is "purely" that I stumble over.)

Rather than the M/B maxim, it seems to me that some writers say that for a story to be credible, it must be written as if it had happened, even if the source was pure imagination. And, yes, indeed, the filter of imagination is often a way a writer transmutes experience into story -- sometimes as a protective measure of self or others, sometimes as "just" an integral part of the creative process.

PS -- thanks for the anecdote @10. Very instructive.


message 14: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 181 comments Lily wrote: "Paul wrote: "yet this isn't autofiction, as it is clearly purely fictional. She adheres to the maxim of Javier Marias (itself borrowed from Karen Blixen)..."

Paul, why do you say this is "clearly ..."


Yes purely was perhaps a bit strong! What I meant was that while the dog is based on her dog, it is set in the town she lived in and, which I didn't mention actually, Ray is based on a man she used to see walking around in that town, the story of Ray himself is entirely imagined.

Whereas her 2nd novel is actually rather closer to Cusk-esk auto-fiction.

And I included the Marias quote more as it was the very book I read beforehand, so it was interesting to apply the maxim. Incidentally Marias has a 2nd comment that agrees with your 2nd para - i.e. where the event described in a novel is purely fictional, then one has to write it as if it may have happened (I don't have the exact words to hand).


message 15: by Neil (new) - rated it 4 stars

Neil | 306 comments I have to say that Googling “autofiction” over breakfast is a good way to start the day with a headache! How much is auto and how much is fiction? I thought I knew what autofiction is until I looked at a few articles that argue about it vehemently. It seems that some would say an autofiction book can be “purely fictional” as long as author/narrator/protagonist are all the same person.


message 16: by Neil (new) - rated it 4 stars

Neil | 306 comments PS I should not be looking at this discussion really, as I have not started the book yet. But I looked by accident and got sucked down a Google wormhole.


message 17: by Lily (last edited Jan 05, 2018 11:12AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2471 comments Paul wrote: "...the story of Ray himself is entirely imagined...."

Thanks for this conversation, Paul. As I said earlier, I was reading this in one mode before Christmas that ultimately didn't work. When I picked it up again, I so much enjoyed the word usage that I gave up trying to find the place where I previously had started skimming and began over. It was like reading poetry (which I largely do not). I was asking myself how does Baume observe so closely and then manage to translate into description and metaphor.

Last night I found myself reading SSFW entirely differently -- it was as if I was sitting in my writing kula and listening to one of the other women read what she had just written. My mind was saying, she is putting her life, her experiences into the persona of a man. Even the shift to the Latin name for a flower from the common names used elsewhere became an insight into the author rather than a characterization of the person in the story -- Ray became more a (masked) personification of the author than a tale from her exterior world.

Don't know at the moment where my reading will veer. But this is fascinating. (An aside to Whitney: I did not get that "Ray" was the protagonist's name, obvious as that became. I do (easy) Sudoku, not crossword puzzles. I was down the path of "Beam" and was finding no denizen of the sea to correspond. But it strikes me that Baume uses crossword clues, maybe not consciously, in multiple situations, e.g., 1) I think Ray's father's name is coming up. 2) I want to live in Ireland so I can guess what are the book names that go with the covers described. If SSFW survives, Bronte-novel like, what scholar will go back and research the offerings in Irish bookstores of these years?)


message 18: by Hugh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2625 comments Mod
Thanks Lily. I didn't even consider trying to identify the books but Baume does namecheck a few books in A Line Made by Walking...


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Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 181 comments Incidentally does the name Ray ever feature in the book - I guess not? I was tempted in my review not to use it but

a) I included a quote from Baume - and she did
b) it gets a bit annoying to say 'our narrator' all the time


message 20: by Hugh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2625 comments Mod
No. She never uses the name directly but it is used in the blurb and I saw that Baume used it in the interview. So maybe we are in Solar Bones territory...


message 21: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 181 comments Hugh wrote: "No. She never uses the name directly but it is used in the blurb and I saw that Baume used it in the interview. So maybe we are in Solar Bones territory..."

Ha! Tramp Press do have form indeed.

They also overruled her on the use of photos in A Line Made by Walking - she wanted them at the start of each chapter (as the UK publisher did it) but they put them in the text as they were mentioned - and the US publisher removed them altogether as Americans are apparently squeamish about dead things!


message 22: by Paul (last edited Jan 05, 2018 11:55AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 181 comments Paul wrote: "Hugh wrote: "No. She never uses the name directly but it is used in the blurb and I saw that Baume used it in the interview. So maybe we are in Solar Bones territory..."

Ha! Tramp Press do have fo..."


Although actually which version do you have? My Tramp copy doesn't seem to mention Ray at all. It looks like that was Penguin (UK) decision - as indeed was the interview with the dog.

Tramp blurb (also as book)
http://www.tramppress.com/product/spi...

Springtime, and two misfits – one an eccentric loner and the other a one-eyed dog – forge an unlikely relationship

Penguin:
https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/11101...

A misfit man finds a misfit dog. Ray, aged fifty-seven, ‘too old for starting over, too young for giving up’, and One Eye, a vicious little bugger, smaller than expected, a good ratter.


message 23: by Lily (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2471 comments Paul wrote: "Incidentally does the name Ray ever feature in the book - I guess not? I was tempted in my review not to use it but

a) I included a quote from Baume - and she did
b) it gets a bit annoying to say ..."


I agree with your comments on the challenge of writing a review without using the protagonist's name. But when it was the first word of the review, as it was for some? It seemed to me a powerful metaphor -- someone both trying to communicate with the world and yet cut off from it by very nature of being. The symbolism rather suffuses the tale.


message 24: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 181 comments Lily wrote: "Paul wrote: "Incidentally does the name Ray ever feature in the book - I guess not? I was tempted in my review not to use it but

a) I included a quote from Baume - and she did
b) it gets a bit ann..."


Agreed - and as per above, Penguin seem to have 'done a Tramp' by putting it in the blurb.


Whitney | 2102 comments Mod
I don't know that it really matters if the blurb reveals his name (my copy doesn't, ffiw). I think the point is that Ray himself doesn't put any value on names.


message 26: by Marc (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2632 comments Mod
Ray's name being omitted reinforces his disconnect from the social world. I don't believe my reading would have been altered in the least had I known his name (or picked up on it upon first allusion). His character and story reveal themselves through OneEye and their relationship.

Baume handled the pacing of Ray imagining himself as OneEye the dog to eventually seeing OneEye as his younger human self rather masterfully. I found her writing evocative and immersive in terms of giving me a sense of place as experienced through the senses.

An inter-species tale of like seeking like, no? A chance to connect and be accepted, if not always understood. (Almost the way some people who spend a large amount of time traveling through made up stories might seek other such people out across the globe... )


message 27: by Neil (new) - rated it 4 stars

Neil | 306 comments I’m catching up now and have just finished these two sections. I got Ray’s name from the description he gave, but I don’t think knowing or not knowing it makes any difference to my experience of reading. Him not using it does reinforce his social difficulties and does emphasise his relationship with One Eye, I think.

I am very happy to have seen the words upscuttle and drupelet! The writing is a joy to read and the nature notes are lovely (reminiscent of Reservoir 13, as someone else has already said). I don’t mind that not much is happening because the words are lovely. I don’t mind that it seems to be heading to dark places for the same reason.


message 28: by Viv (new) - rated it 3 stars

Viv JM | 62 comments I guess names are only relevant within a social context and our narrator seems to feel at the same time invisible and watched - he's aware that everyone knows who he is (as village eccentric/strange man) but people don't seem to acknowledge him much. His only connection is with One Eye, and there is no need for names in that relationship.

I am so enjoying the language and poetic voice of this book that I feel compelled to read slowly and re-read passages several times before moving on. For me, the occasional wry humour helps to cut through the darkness and loneliness conveyed, to prevent this being a depressing read.


message 29: by Hugh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2625 comments Mod
While we are talking about language has anyone else come across sporky before? I am guessing this is Irish slang and it cropped up 2 or 3 times...


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 236 comments I think I’m a little behind the rest of you in reading this since I’ve just finished the first section.

So far, I’m struck by the beauty of the language. It’s lyrical and rhythmic. A real joy to read. I’m also struck by how the narrator perceives OneEye as an extension of himself and himself as an extension of OneEye. Their identities merge to such a degree he even dreams as OneEye. His sensitivity to the needs of the dog and his desire to provide for the dog’s comfort is handled in such a touching and delicate way.

But as I’m reading this, I can’t help feeling that this is leading up to be a very sad book about a lonely, isolated human being whose name is never fully identified (i.e. he is Everyman) and who finds comfort in a formerly abused dog, forms an identity-merging bond with this dog, only to lose it all in some way or another in the end.

I hope I’m wrong. But methinks Baume is setting this up for a very sad ending. I’ll continue reading because it is so beautifully written. As I do so, though, I’m reading with a pound of fear and sixteen ounces of trepidation.

It's not that I always require a happy ending in books. It's just that the sensitive handling of the narrator's loneliness, coupled with his life-affirming bond with OneEye is so gripping that I would hate to see it end sadly.


Whitney | 2102 comments Mod
Lily wrote: "I want to live in Ireland so I can guess what are the book names that go with the covers described. ..."

From the section with the book covers, and possible titles. The first two are confirmed in an interview with Baume:


A tall man and a small man both in cowboy hats walking a red road toward a blue mountain between a tall tree and a small tree.
Of Mice and Men. Ray seems to me to be both Lennie (how he appears to the outside) and George (the way he looks out for One Eye, dangerous through no fault of his own).

A great fish with a pointed nose, a loose line skipping.
"The Old Man and the Sea". The reference is more obvious in later chapters.

A profile, half-man half-wolf, a single eye in the very centre.
"Steppenwolf". Someone who doesn't fit in with society.

And a man rising from a pen’s nib in a suit jacket to drift amongst the skyscrapers.
"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"? Definitely even less sure here. The socially invisible man with a rich inner life fits, but the comedic tone definitely clashes.


message 32: by Lily (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2471 comments Whitney wrote: "Lily wrote: "I want to live in Ireland so I can guess what are the book names that go with the covers described. ..."

From the section with the book covers, and possible titles. The first two are ..."


Brilliant! And observant! Thanks, Whitney!

I figured more symbols were there, but I wasn't doing any better with those than I had with "Ray."(As many of you know, in general, spoilers don't bother me. But given the way Baume (artistically) handled her protagonist's name in the text, the reviews surprised me. Especially since I perceive much of the world is more sensitive about advance information before the author reveals than I. But also because I did feel here it was part of the characterization of Ray -- as I may have said previously, I am also reading Your Golden Shadow right now, so that, too, may have influenced my sensitivity to depicting the light and shadow aspects of Ray.)

Now -- the father's name. I'm not doing any better with that one, either. (page 81) Chickadees and cardinals don't hack it. Amber-breasted passerines on Irish Christmas cards?


message 33: by Lily (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2471 comments Incidentally, I am at the beginning of "Falter," and I am faltering, I'll keep reading for the language, but it will take discipline, at least for awhile. I don't have a feeling of getting pulled into a plot for which I want resolution or closure or lack thereof -- whatever an ending might be in the hands of Beame. (Something similar happened in reading Reservoir 13, still, it exuded kind of a belief that it wouldn't end the way you had been told it would end--but it did!)


Whitney | 2102 comments Mod
Lily wrote: "Now -- the father's name. I'm not doing any better with that one, either. (page 81) Chickadees and cardinals don't hack it. Amber-breasted passerines on Irish Christmas cards? ..."

I was going with Robin.


message 35: by Hugh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2625 comments Mod
Definitely Robin. It is my father's name and he hates those cards. Seems to be more of a woman's name in the USA these days...


Whitney | 2102 comments Mod
Oof. I'm guessing he gets more than his share of those cards from people being 'clever'?

Robin is indeed a very uncommon boy's name in these parts.


message 37: by Lily (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2471 comments I wondered. Thanks.


message 38: by Robert (new) - added it

Robert | 426 comments Whitney wrote: "Oof. I'm guessing he gets more than his share of those cards from people being 'clever'?

Robin is indeed a very uncommon boy's name in these parts."


As trivia Robin is another form of the name Robert.


Patrick (patrickofsylvania) | 6 comments Tamara wrote: "I think I’m a little behind the rest of you in reading this since I’ve just finished the first section.

So far, I’m struck by the beauty of the language. It’s lyrical and rhythmic. A real joy to ..."


I'm probably around the same part of the book as Tamara with many of the same thoughts. It feels to me like this is written by a narrator who is a trauma survivor. It seems to me that there are a lot of sentences that start with "I . . . ." Whenever I've suffered trauma in my life, I found myself thinking along that same sentence structure.


Kathleen | 264 comments I couldn't tell from the thread title that this was just for the first half, so I avoided it until now when I just finished!

Interesting comments. Thanks for sharing those references, Whitney--I wasn't familiar with any of them.

I did get the father's name was Robin, but I have to say I never once missed not knowing Ray's name. And now that I hear it after reading it (I quickly forgot the blurb) I sort of wish she hadn't given him any name.

I don't think the dog was a vehicle to tell the story. It seems clear the author is deeply aware of her dogs, and wanted to write something that could express that understanding.


Dr. Cat (ecospirit) | 20 comments Just finished the book and reading all the comments. This dog is surely not a loveable or people-friendly dog, which Ray can connect with.

Lily wrote: "Whitney wrote: "I'll just add that badger baiting is far more brutal than just tracking and worrying animals. ..."

Any guess why the author chose such a dog for the story, beyond that such a dog w..."



message 42: by Lily (last edited Jan 12, 2018 09:00PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2471 comments Catherine wrote: "Just finished the book and reading all the comments. This dog is surely not a loveable or people-friendly dog, which Ray can connect with....."

Well, doesn't Paul @10 sort of explain the personal experience the author brings to the story?


message 43: by Dan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dan Catherine wrote: "Just finished the book and reading all the comments. This dog is surely not a loveable or people-friendly dog, which Ray can connect with."

Indeed. One Eye is ugly, maimed, unpredictably vicious, outcast, and cast out, not unlike Ray. And both One Eye and Ray are also capable of devotion and love, demonstrating, much to Sara Baume's credit, that canines and human are both multi-faceted and capable of exhibiting different traits in different circumstances.


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 236 comments Dan wrote: " One Eye is ugly, maimed, unpredictably vicious, outcast, and cast out, not unlike Ray..."

And if I remember correctly, doesn't Ray give One Eye one of his father's bones to chew on after he retrieves the skeleton from the attic?


message 45: by Lily (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2471 comments Hugh wrote: "While we are talking about language has anyone else come across sporky before? I am guessing this is Irish slang and it cropped up 2 or 3 times..."

Did google help with providing insight, Hugh? I couldn't match with context, since I didn't happen to notice "sporky" in the text and am not reading this in ebook format, so can't readily search for it.


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