(creator: John Fuller)
|Vane (as he is referred to throughout) is a (presumably) late medieval priest, marked by a silver cross hanging round his neck, who has been sent by his bishop as his personal emissary to investigate the strange lack of pilgrims on a remote Welsh island with a miraculous well. He is an energetic, if mysterious, searcher after truth, and faithful servant of his bishop, but we discover surprisingly little else about him, except that he seems to feel sympathy for the missing pilgrims' families and priests. But he is certainly not a man to be trifled with.
John Fuller (1937- ) is the son of the poet Roy Fuller. He was educated at St. Paul's School, and New College, Oxford, where. after lecturing in New York and Manchester, he became Fellow of Magdalen College. He has published many books of poetry, and was the winner of the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize (1974) and the Southern Arts Literature Award (1980). He is married with three daughters. Flying to Nowhere was his first work of adult fiction. He went on to write other novels, as well as books for children. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and lives in Oxford.
Flying to Nowhere (1983)
Vane has been sent by the bishop to investigate. But first he loses his horse, Saviour, who tries to leap ashore and perishes. So is he vain and does he lose his saviour? Things are not as simple as that. He meets the Abbot and asks why there are no pilgrims. "Ah," said the Abbott carefully. "That is a deep question." That first evening Vane "prayed for guidance in his undertaking". He was going to need it.
"You have no register of pilgrims," Vane complains to the Abbot, who seems quite uninterested in their fate. "Pilgrimage," the Abbot tells him, "is a symbolic act, is it not? It is only the outward sign of an inward direction. It is the earnest of our spiritual condition, a manifestation of the natural tendency of life to seek its fulfilment. Life is not a condition for which, I think you will admit, there is any cure." But, if there is no cure at the miraculous well, what arrangements do they make to bury the dead?
Beneath all this, there is a core of hard reality. A dying farm woman, the Abbot's one-time lover (?), Mrs Ffedderbompau, asks the Abbot, "Why am I inside myself and not somewhere else?"
The time comes for the ceremonial ordination/ordeal of a novice. The Abbot preaches a sermon against flying: "What is the temptation that every monk must put behind him? It is the temptation to forget that he is dust. It is the temptation to fly. Remember that spending with women is a struggle from roots, an attempt to fly. A man who uses the grape is a man who tries to fly .... Remember that uttering strange sounds in the wind is an attempt to fly. A man who cannot keep his silence is a man who tries to fly." So "Be secret, tread soberly and know not women."
Then the novice is put to his final trial and next morning women approach his bedchamber carrying sharp knives and bowls of water. Just what is going on? Vane does not know because, stripped to the waist, he had been busy excavating the courtyard, unearthing strange channels that seemed to lead to trhe Abbot's quarters. What is the Abbot up to?
It's an extraordinary story told in a fascinating way, strange, powerful and mystical. It is very short but full of interest. It is, the blurb explains, "a fable about everybody's feeling that the body is insufficient and that there ought to be the possibility of some sort of miraculous escape from it." Highly original, whether you find it profound or pretentious, and a book you can't put down. Recommended.
See the British Council page about the author, and, for a full list of his books, the fantasticfiction site.
|The stylish cover hints at the author's imaginative approach. The anatomical drawing of the horse is particularly appropriate in a story in which dissection plays such a major part.|