Saturday, August 24, 2019

"The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep"

H.G. Parry is a fantasy writer based in Wellington, New Zealand. Her short fiction has appeared in Intergalactic Medicine Show, Daily Science Fiction, and small press anthologies. She holds a PhD in English Literature from Victoria University of Wellington, and teaches English Literature, Film, and Media Studies. Parry lives in a book-infested flat by the beach, which she shares with her sister, three guinea pigs, and two over-active rabbits.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep, her debut novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 takes place shortly after Rob and Charley have just fallen through a wall to a secret Victorian street hidden in the middle of their city. Not only does this street look like an illustration from a Dickensian novel, it’s populated by various different book characters, including a violent Heathcliff and five Mr Darcys. Their leader is the only character among them to have been read out by Charley himself: her name is Millie Radcliffe-Dix, a girl detective from a series of children’s adventure books. (I made Millie up, but I based her on the children from Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books and a little on Nancy Drew.) Charley read Millie out a long time ago, though, and – as Rob notes to his confusion – she’s no longer a child:
The woman I was seeing was a force of nature: a hurricane that pats you on the back sympathetically as it blows you over. She wasn't real – I'd seen her come out of a book, or Charley's head, or both. And yet somehow, impossibly, she'd grown up.
The rest of the page is a tumble of questions, and the only one that gets answered is the one about the lamppost, because I have an idiotic sense of humour:
“Awfully sorry about Heathcliff,” Millie said. “He's not really a very stable manifestation. We think he's a post-colonial reading – or perhaps he just misses the fictional moors. Either way, he's certainly very angry all the time. And they're all on edge at the moment, with everything that's been going on.”

“That's all right,” I said, lamely. The rush of adrenaline from facing Heathcliff was starting to catch up with me: I was shaking, and hoped the other two hadn't noticed. Her words caught up to me a moment later. “What's been going on?”

“Where did this place come from?” Charley asked from the window seat. He was barely able to tear his eyes from the scene outside. I couldn't see anything from where I sat, but I could hear the sound of footsteps over the cobbles, and the murmur of voices rising from below. “Who made it? And who's that helping Heathcliff pick up the lamppost?”

“The White Witch,” Millie said, and I thought of the alarmingly tall woman in white leather. “She's good with lampposts. I don't know if anyone made the Street; none of us do. I wondered if you'd made it.”

“No,” he said. “I wish I had. None of this comes from me – only you, I suppose, but that was a long time ago.”

Millie shrugged. “Well, it's jolly useful, and it's ours now. What on earth are you two doing here?”

Charley started to answer, but I interrupted.

“Look, I'm sorry, but you can't be Millie Radcliffe-Dix. You can't be. She was a little girl – I saw her. And these things – the things my brother makes – don't grow like human beings. Do they?” I turned to Charley for confirmation, but he only shrugged helplessly.

“I – I don't think so. I never kept one out of their books for long enough to see...”
So: mysteries, hidden streets, literary in-jokes, grown-up girl detectives, and impossibilities. Rob is on the defensive, Charley only cares about books and magic, and Millie takes the whole thing in her stride. This also touches on the idea of interpretation, which is central to the book: as postcolonial Heathcliff shows, the focus is on the power of the reader to shape the text they read. So yes, this is definitely a good glimpse of what the book contains, though I’m amazed Rob and Charley managed to get through a page without obviously fighting.
Visit H.G. Parry's website.

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--Marshal Zeringue