June 8th, 2013

dog knotwork

Latro in the Mist - Gene Wolfe

This is a fat book (well, a fat book containing two thinner books) telling the story of a man who wakes up with a head injury after a battle, and finds he can't remember anything since his childhood.

He starts to explore his world, and we discover that he is in classical Greece, and that not only has he forgotten everything, but that the forgetfulness is ongoing: he can only remember one day into the past, and everything else is lost in the mist.   People call him 'Latro' so he assumes that is his name, although eventually we find out that this means 'soldier' or 'mercenary' and that his actual name is Lucius.  Oh, and he can see gods, fauns, ghosts and centaurs, and his touch allows other people to see them too.   The entire book is written as Latro's own notes to himself.  In an attempt to keep track of what is going on around him, he keeps a diary, but as time goes on, he finds that he is not able to read the entire book, or even part of it, every day, which can lead to misunderstandings.

It's an intriguing premise, but makes for a strangely unstructured book.   It made me realise that a lot of the time when I am reading a book, I tend to wander along behind the protagonist admiring the scenery.  I assume that the protagonist is keeping track of the plot.  Should I forget the details of that crucial conversation in Chapter Three, the protagonist will probably know what's going on and I can work it out from his/her reaction.    Latro can't do that : he has no idea what's going on most of the time, and just to confuse matters further, he translates most of the place names into English - so Athens becomes Thought, for example.  I don't think I really have the classical background to appreciate this, although I suspect there are in-jokes and clever references that I missed.    I found myself almost wanting to make notes as I went along. Many of the plot threads don't really resolve, they just wander off.    Beautifully written though, and Latro is a likeable if somewhat puzzled man.

One thing I liked was that on the whole, everyone is very nice to Latro.    Bad things do happen, but there seems to be a general feeling that Latro is a favorite of the gods, and as a result he is taken advantage of much less than one might expect.