History is not the past; it is only the study of the past, and of the narrative arts. It is just one version of the past, told very much in the light of the present.
This novel. Wow. There’s just so much going on I don’t know where to start. Spanning hundreds of years it is the story of Rupetta. A mechanical woman, made not born, but with a consciousness. With a conscience. With a heart. It is also the story of the lies that grow around her. It is about the fictions that grow in the spaces left by the absence of a single, simple truth. Because there’s never any such thing as a single, simple truth. Life isn’t like that. It is about blind faith and horror and about love. It’s difficult to know how to review this. I don’t even know what genre it is. Fantasy? Steampunk? Horror? Quite simply I loved it.
Interwoven with Rupetta’s story is the “present day” story of Henri. When that is the novel doesn’t explicitly say. Henri wants to be a scholar, an Obanite. To this end she travels to the Oban College where, after years of study, if she excels and proves herself worthy, her heart will be taken out and replaced with a mechanical one – in imitation of Rupetta’s own clockwork centre.
This was the celebration of proof of the greatest gift of Rupetta: the symbol of our promised immortality, our ultimate release from the brutal and fleeting turmoil of the flawed, uncertain, death driven life of a natural creature. It was a gift bestowed on a select few – those most deserving, those whose work was most likely to prove useful to the ongoing work in the service of the Fourfold Law – in recognition of their dedication to rationality and intellect, their pursuit of the knowledge that would, some day, free all of humanity from the perpetual chaos and formlessness of Nature. It was the ultimate, simple and ordinary denial of the Oikos heresy: their privileging of faith and decay over knowledge and permanence. I knew all this.
At the College she falls in love with a mysterious woman called Miri. She also, through her research, discovers some truths about the dogmatic History, the flawed narrative that she, that everyone, had swallowed whole. About the way power distorts the truth, warping it into something horrific.
I want to give this five stars. I probably should give it five stars. But there was some weirdness here that I’m not sure was intended. Nothing major, a bit of repetition maybe, a few moments when the thread of the narrative wavered and became thin. I suspect it could have done with a more rigorous edit. I wonder if the novel has a little bit too much going on? I wanted to linger in some places (a city built on pontoons!) and I had trouble keeping others clear in my mind (what and where is the Winter City?). I probably wouldn’t mind the novel being longer, if it were also tighter.
But does any of that really matter? Does an exquisite meal make sense? Do you seek consistency in a great bottle of wine or in the embrace of a loved one? This was a novel I wanted to live in. Sulway’s use of language is stunning. Rich and vividly wrought, it’s a celebration of love, earth, satisfaction from words and starting with something small and nurturing it as it grows. It is woman-centric in an understated and unquestioned way. I want more of this. So much more. Excuse me, I’m off to read everything Sulway has ever written.
Rupetta, N. A Sulway: Four and a half stars.
Read it when: your fragile human heart grows tired.