I am starting this thread here to present my own views on the new fragments, due to the obvious Spook Country connections, and to keep myself away from the bustle in Random. It is also less likely that WG will see it out here in the boondocks.
First of all some chronological musings.
WG was probably at the revising stage of Pattern Recognition by 9/11/01. However the rewriting due to the world change delayed the book several months. The book was published in February 2003 (15 months later). He started posting Spook Country fragments the 21st January 2006, stopping in September, and eighteen months later we got the book, four years and a half gap between books. In the eighties the gap was two years, three years in the nineties so the four years in the new century seemed right.
Which is why the current three year gap (it has been three years already!) seems fast. And I cannot forget what he said in London in August 2007: “Gotta go. I have a book to write.”
All these reflections make me think that the new book will be closer to Spook Country, continuous with it, tackling the questions that he still had after finishing it. Spook Country is the most political, and maybe because of this, the most comedic of his works. The problem with Politics is that it is hard to step away. It just keeps happening.
WG has already published novels sharing many characters, in the Bridge series, so it is not unusual. I suspect the “present” setting helps to keep the characters alive in the author’s mind. If we cannot help but ask ourselves “What would Bigend do with this…” while checking the news, I suspect it is even harder for him. Then we have Milgrim, that I believe works as the author’s avatar in that spooky alternate world. If he keeps the political content, he needs his spokesman. These well worn characters would speed up writing, compared to a new set.
That would set up Bigend firmly as the link, which is only natural. If he stays true to form, and splices three narratives, we are missing one of the three, the new one, as we have Hollis/Inchmale in London and Milgrim exploring the USA subconscious. I doubt it will be Tito. As Cayce before, he was left in balance by the novel’s ending, at peace in a good place they could stay in, unlike Hollis or Milgrim, who were on the verge of entering the unknown, with an uncertain future in front of them.
Now the fragments themselves.
The first one, Cabinet, seems now in retrospective to show Hollis voice, the peculiar feeling of someone used to British eccentricity while feeling detached from it. Nothing like an expatriate American for that. The description hovers at the edge of déjà vécu, “I have been to a place like this”, without allowing us to pinpoint a particular example. Brilliant.
Hold the coprophagia amused me, as Hollis is repeating, I suppose, the wikipedia entry that most readers would quickly check too. Circular references. Seems to belong to the same chapter as the first one. And I agree that Number Four is the name of the room. Not a number, a name. I would also like to point out that walrus ivory scrimshaw is thin and longish, better suited for umbrella handles and sticks than bed decoration, so “slabs” just doesn’t feel right, at least as opposed to sperm whale pan bone (often mistaken as ivory), the biggest and densest bone in nature, possibly the best scrimshaw material. I would also like to point out that a right whale lower jaw is 3-4 meters long, so enormous is right, and it really puts Number Four into the biggie class.
Cricket once again seems to follow closely the previous fragment. If I was amused by the wikipedia quote, its repetition becomes hilarious, although the duplication of heavy for the handset does not feel right. Once again we have three steps to the phone, to transmit that old house/big room feeling. The interaction between Hollis and Hubertus just seems a natural evolution of the one in Spook Country, with Hollis no longer bound to him as an employee but yet knowing how insistent Hubertus is when he wants something. To me it says that they have possibly not been in touch after the jingle affair, but that Inchmale has hit it off with him, so she remains indirectly aware of him.
Clearly money is no longer a problem for Hollis, a pleasant change that allows her to set some terms in her interaction with Bigend.
The Gabriel Hounds. A change of scenario, from Cabinet to Gay Dolphin Gift Cove, from London to South Carolina (I was not surprised to check that there is a Brooks Brothers in the 51 of Via della Vigna Nuova, in Florence). Once again I see Milgrim channeling more or less raw Gibson feelings. But this time he seems less detached, an actor of sorts rather than an uninvolved (almost) observer. The question then is what game is Bigend playing that requires Milgrim’s touch. I suppose that would make me happy, as I was among those that thought that it was Bigend who called Milgrim at the end of SC, and we know that he is curious and stubborn enough to make the effort to track him down, and maybe find out what Hollis was up to in Vancouver.