Short Story Club: “The Puma”

Theodora Goss’s story is here. We start our round-up of comment with Kimberley Lundstrom for The Fix:

“The Puma” by Theodora Goss is an interesting take on H.G. Wells’ classic The Island of Dr. Moreau. In Goss’ version, Edward Prendick’s post-island seclusion in the English countryside is interrupted by Catherine, a distinctly feline woman who calls herself Mrs. Prendick. Edward is struck by her beauty, the scars now erased from the face of the Puma Woman who killed Moraeu. Her presence releases a flood of memories for him: of the island, of Moreau, Montgomery, the Beast Men, of the fire and of subsequent actions of his own he would like to forget. But Catherine has come not only to reminisce — she has a favor she would ask, a favor she knows he cannot refuse.

This story is fascinating and well-wrought, flowing smoothly from a conversation between a civilized lady and gentleman in an English garden to the savagery of men and beasts on the island, and back again. Alive with sensory detail, gripping tension, and social commentary, “The Puma” is an engrossing story in its own right as well as a fitting homage to Wells’ novel.

Lois Tilton at IROSF:

A derivative work tends to assume that readers are familiar with the original. Given this, I find that the Puma repeats rather too much of the events on the island, even if they are not quite the same events as in the book. This is otherwise a rather unsettling evocation of the original tale, suggesting that the consequences of evil continue to propagate long before the original evildoer is gone.

Jasminembla:

Read ‘The Puma‘ today at Apex Magazine and really liked the delicate diction, very controlled plotting and neatly researched background. Almost like a fable, with lovely touches of inventive horror and mysterious revenge. So Chabon, ‘influence is bliss.’

Michele Lee:

“The Puma” is a continuation of The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells, in which Catherine, the puma-woman, tracks down Edward Prendick with a request. One might even say a demand. Goss’ prose is seamless, capturing a deeper meaning of the original story that hints at our own future.

Maureen’s thoughts:

My feelings towards this story are ambivalent. It’s an interesting story, a thought-provoking story, and I think it does interrogate the original novel in useful ways. Certainly, it’s a rich story in terms of topics for discussion, and that can’t be bad. On that level, I’m glad to have read it, to have been prompted to read The Island of Doctor Moreau, and to start thinking more deeply about it. But my ‘entertainment’ … I suppose one should call it that … has come as much from the greater project as from the story on its own. However one addresses a story there surely needs to be, at some point, an umami moment, a moment of just knowing that it’s right, without having to analyse it, and I’m just not getting that from this story. (Of the five I’ve now read for this exercise, the Chris Adrian comes closest, but I’m having a similar struggle with the contents of the latest Dozois Best of Year.) Is it me as a reader that is at fault, jaded as my palate appears to be, or are writers just not pushing far enough? I don’t know, but it’s frustrating.

Rich Horton listed it as a recommended story in the May Locus, but didn’t offer any analysis. A few supplementary links that may or may not be of interest: Goss on the circumstances of the writing of the story; Mark at Dinosaur Blues suggests that it make’s an interesting counterpoint to Jeffrey Ford’s “After Moreau“, and by way of an editorial for the relevant issue of Apex, Sarah Brandel has an essay on “Beast Men and the Human Animal“, discussing both Goss’s story and Ekaterina Sedia’s “The Mind of a Pig“. So a few hooks for discussion there, perhaps. The floor is open.

24 Responses to “Short Story Club: “The Puma””

  1. Jonathan McCalmont Says:

    Firstly, I was struck by how poorly written it was on a purely technical level. Some of the sentences are just terrible. For example :

    “a herd of sheep like clouds in the valley below. I could see a dog driving them, first from one side of the herd and then the other”

    If you say that x is driving x from A to B you assume that x is moving thing y from place A to place B. So the first time I read that sentence I thought it was saying that dogs were moving one herd of sheep from one side to the other of a second herd of sheep. Which makes no sense. Oh, and it’s a flock of sheep.

    Also, the first expository paragraph is all about creating a sense of isolation. He was so alone that even the Priest didn’t invite him to his church. But then it turns out that he has a house keeper… so he’s not alone then. Plus, more tortured syntax :

    “She was waiting for me in the parlor, a sanctuary that Mrs. Pertwee only entered to do whatever housekeepers customarily do to horsehair sofas and china ornaments”

    A sanctuary is a place of refuge and safety. The first sentence suggests that the parlor is a room that is safe for the character. A fortress of solitude that is only entered occasionally by the house-keeper to do some tidying. But then the next sentence is :

    “I had not used the room since renting the cottage, and had seen no need to alter it.”

    So for whom is the parlor a sanctuary? the ornaments? the sofa? and alter it from what to what? I think the word Goss was looking for was mausoleum.

    Also this :

    “Somewhere, there was a man, and it was at his whistle that the dog ran to and fro. What dogs had done, and men had done, and sheep had done, for a hundred years. A quintessentially English scene.”

    Is portentous rubbish. What is so quintessentially English about sheep farming? I’m pretty sure that other places have sheep-farming too. That’s just a heavy-handed attempt at fixing the action in a particular place.

    I was also struck by how genuinely terrible Goss is at dialogue. All the dialogue is stilted and weird. Initially, I thought that it was an attempt at Victorian preciousness but this sounds tinny and artificial :

    “Let’s reminisce, like old friends. Eventually, I’ll have a favor to ask of you. But first, I’ll tell you what I’ve been doing with myself for the last few years. Since, that is, you left me to die on the island.”

    This seems syntactically off for me. A hodge-podge of weirdly assembled clauses in different tenses and framed in disjointedly theatrical manner. What actually says things like “Let’s reminisce like old friends”? And what kind of person a) says those kinds of things and b) uses an informal contraction instead of “let us”? So that’s a tension and that’s without touching upon the fact that old friends tend not to abandon each other on islands (though that could have been dealt with by a “she added with a teasing smile”.

    Secondly, the story is somewhat mixed as a metaphor. I’ve always taken Dr Moreau to be treading on similar ground to Heart of Darkness… the White European desire to civilise non-white, non-Euopeans and coming unstuck in the process. Initially, the story seemed to play into this by stressing the fact that the survivor was not so civilised after-all but then the ending somewhat scuppered that. If the point of the story was that the beast people were not as savage as in the original book, why did they start killing people?

  2. Denni Says:

    I must say I’m with The Fix on this one. The story and style worked for me, but let’s see what people have to say.

    (You can probably tell I’m by no means a reviewer, but I’m following the story club with interest!)

  3. Martin Says:

    Another week, another stinker. And another story that plays on an earlier story. I was reminded of the discussion of here.

    Beyond the sinking feeling caused by the realisation it was riffing on a source text I hadn’t read, I was still put off. As Jonathan says, the opening paragraph feels awkward with its contradiction of total isolation and constant housekeeper. More awkwardness follows and the typos are also unfortunate, particularly “seemed with scars”.

  4. Abigail Says:

    I generally rate Goss’s prose quite highly, Jonathan, but I agree that parts of this story are quite awkward. I wonder whether this isn’t a case of an American (or rather Hungarian-American) trying to capture a particular 19th century English voice without really having a handle on it.

    Thinking back on Goss’s stories from In the Forest of Forgetting, I seem to recall that there’s not much dialogue in most of them (though there is voice – quite a few are narrated in a fairy-tale narrator voice which Goss pulls off rather nicely).

    I don’t think, though, that the point of the story is that the beast people aren’t savage. On the contrary, both the narrator and his visitor stress that she is an animal, albeit a sentient, intelligent one – though it’s monstrous for him to eat Moreau’s creatures, she’s a predator and feels no guilt for eating them. It’s her deliberate goal to create a super-predator, and the story’s ending indicates that she succeeded. It’s a very typical ending for a horror story, and the end note from the narrator’s nephew is even more in keeping with a certain subset of horror. But the story is also in conversation with real-world issues – as you say, the original Moreau is a story about colonialism, and the story comments on that as well – and I’m not sure what Goss is trying to say in that respect.

  5. Maureen Kincaid Speller Says:

    Martin says: Jonathan says, the opening paragraph feels awkward with its contradiction of total isolation and constant housekeeper.

    I wonder if we aren’t straying into class issues here, insofar as, for Prendick, the housekeeper simply doesn’t count as being sufficiently human to ameliorate the sense of isolation as he perceives it. She is a servant, and as such is there not even to be seen, let alone heard.

    Abigail says: But the story is also in conversation with real-world issues – as you say, the original Moreau is a story about colonialism, and the story comments on that as well – and I’m not sure what Goss is trying to say in that respect.

    This is very much the sort of problem I had with the story. There were moments when I felt she was trying to tease out the puma-woman’s position, having placed her as superior to the other beast-people by virtue of appearance and education, as well as gender, but I felt at the same time that while Goss was noting the issue, she wasn’t really, despite having set it up, engaging with it.

  6. Jonathan McCalmont Says:

    I take on board both Abigail and Maureen’s defences of Goss’s prose and I think you’re both right to a certain extent.

    I think that there is an attempt to imitate 19th Century verbal over-ornamentation but it still rings false and awkward to my ears. To be fair, one of my favourite films is Mike Leigh’s Topy-Turvy precisely because of gets the pretention of a lot of Bourgeois Victorian speech perfectly.

    I also agree that it’s true that the house-keeper is not a lady. And that that is all that the relevant sentence implied but I find it weird for the that paragraph to emphasise loneliness and isolation whereas in fact the bloke has a house-keeper and 2 visitors. I’m just not sure why you would do that…

  7. Matt Hilliard Says:

    I haven’t read the original, though as soon as Moreau’s name was mentioned I took a quick detour to Wikipedia for the summary. The story is okay, but what was the point? If it’s supposed to be a horror story, where’s the tension? If it’s supposed to be social commentary, where’s the commentary?

    The story throws a bunch of ideas out there but doesn’t develop them at all. To take just one example, much is made of the narrator’s kind-of cannibalism, but what was the reason for including it? And why is it OK for Catherine to eat them? Because she used to be an animal? But if her nature is still that of an animal, why can’t the same be said of the Beast-men they ate? Most humans eat animals all the time, so how was that different? If they were uplifted to human-status and thus protected by the taboo, then Catherine too is human.

    But that gets into whether Catherine is really an animal or not. I would say no, since she’s smarter than most humans. The story seems to think she’s different but doesn’t explain how (being evil and licking the narrator’s neck don’t count). Her invocation of Darwin is, I suppose, a parody of the period’s social Darwinism, but coming from the smartest and most capable character in the story it almost feels endorsed.

  8. Jonathan McCalmont Says:

    Oh and surely the Catherine pun is “Cat Here-In” not “Cat In Here”.

  9. Niall Says:

    Her invocation of Darwin

    If you meant the bit about selective pressure towards the end, I thought that was quite effective: it turned a fairly obvious motivation into something a bit more incisive; and it’s probably the most substantive undercutting of the victim/innocence status that you might expect to accrue to an individual of Catherine’s history and in her position.

    I liked the story most of anyone here so far, I think, despite not having read Moreau. But I need to ponder it a bit more to really articulate why.

    Jonathan: yes, Cat-in-here jumped out at me, too. If it was meant to be additional evidence of Montgomery’s drunkenness at the time, I think it over-egged the pudding somewhat.

  10. Martin Says:

    She is a servant, and as such is there not even to be seen, let alone heard.

    I would have thought that some of his previous experiences – stranded on island with mad scientist, having sex with a puma-woman, eating people – might have freed him from such social conventions and gifted him with a more literal view of the world.

  11. Matt Denault Says:

    I’ve enjoyed many of Goss’s short stories, and several of those have been this sort of twice-told tale. Those past Goss retellings have focused mostly on fairy tales, so it was interesting to read this one, which engages with A) a novel-length work and B) a work of science fiction. [1]

    What’s most interesting to me about this story is the way Goss seems to reverse the very formula of the postmodern twice-told tale that she helped to popularize. We’ve seen it before: take a classic older story rife with -isms; offer a point of view from those whose voice is unrepresented in that story (women, monsters — female monsters for bonus points); undermine the binary morality and social mores of the original tale, and show that the line separating the unrepresented other and those who are represented (typically male humans) is fuzzier than many a genre reader (typically male humans) might think.

    And certainly there’s a large degree of that in this story, especially the “human behavior is more guided by our sense of animal appeal than we like to think” side — which Goss has written about before in “Sleeping with Bears.”

    But there’s also a large portion of the story that seems to me to be saying that however beautiful on the outside they may become, an animal shaped into human form will be, at most, a psychopath: an amoral, emotionless user (“She was, as always, perfectly calm”) who may learn to give lip service to overarching human ideas and ideals like the needs of the other, but who has no real concerns beyond the basic biological drives of hunting prey and reproducing the species (“Her motives were always simple, logical”). [2]

    What’s tricky about reading this story is that, while it is based on a novel-length SF story, I’m not sure that either of those elements do this story many favors in either its composition or in helping us to read it. The difficulty with the source story being novel-length is that there is more there than a short story can comfortably engage with: colonialism; science; animals, humanity, and personhood. So there are times in Goss’s story where elements like colonialism are touched on, but not much is done with them — which feels unsatisfying. And with the source story having SF elements, it’s probably natural for us, as we read Goss’s extension of the story here in an SFnal context, to expect her story to address the modern relevance of some of the ideas in the original, or at least explore more of the SFnal questions it itself raises. And it doesn’t do much of that.

    Instead, it reads to me that Goss is more interested in conversing with Wells’s original story than in extending it. Which has a problematic aspect, because she has written an extension of it. In many ways though this doesn’t read like a story, so much as a literary dialog — how can one make sense of Wells’s story, how would a modern reader respond to it and desire it to be fleshed out in order to make it feel real, while still being true to the original? It’s not a rewriting so much as a filling-in.

    I think how well it succeeds in this depends on to what degree we’re willing to credit author intentions. Is Prendick’s failure to register the housekeeper as a person clumsy prose or carefully constructed period characterization that evokes the theme of personhood? Is the fact that Catherine’s dialog has a patchwork feel equally the result of clumsy writing, or is it that that is how someone like her (without a brain really wired for complex language, whose English would be a mixture of Prendick and Montgomery) would speak? Is the absence of a “she added with a teasing smile” signifier in the dialog the result of the absence of craft (as Jonathan suggests), or does it come from a desire to show and not tell (again re: characterization — would Catherine truly tease)? Is the weird jumping around in time in the first extended paragraph clumsy writing, or a guide to what’s to come in the story?

    Based on Goss’s other works and hearing her speak on panels, I’m willing to believe that she’s a considered, aware enough thinker that all (or most) of these things are intentional. (Despite the proofreading mistakes; hey, I know the longer I spend thinking about and revising a review, the harder it is for me to spot minor errors of usage.) But I’m not sure what I’d think if this was the first Goss story I encountered.

    (And to be sure, I don’t think the story is completely successful on its own terms even as I’ve outlined them: Prendick’s narrative voice, for example, reads very differently is Goss than in Wells, which is odd.)

    So: not bad, although I do wish there was more to it for its length, and I don’t think it’s a story that will linger in my memory the way Goss’s best stories have.

    [1] And as an aside, I find it interesting that many “mythpunk” authors who gained some acclaim as authors of twice-told stories are now expanding into SF – Goss here, Link, Valente who we’ll be reading in a few weeks, etc. Is this a case where it’s just a natural area of expansion for authors looking to grow, are market forces driving authors of short stories in the direction of SF, or is there a type of SF that has become almost mythical — maybe it’s not the authors who have expanded their focus, but SF that has drifted into their focus?

    [2] All of which is interesting because here we have a “beautiful but deadly female who wants to destroy humanity” story from Theodora Goss, many of whose previous retellings were of the “what if the princess doesn’t want to marry the prince who kissed her awake?” type of feminism. Personally I like it when authors round out their oeuvre and engage in dialog with themselves, trusting a reader to read any single story as only part of that oeuvre; like it when authors pursue a story to an end that feels true to them and their characters. But I wonder whether any of her readers have felt betrayed by this story?

  12. Nick H. Says:

    I can’t say I was greatly impressed by this story. Partly it was down to the presentation; as has already been noted, particularly by Martin, it does suffer from containing typos. On top of which, the shift between talking about events on the island and events in England happened in places without any warning or indication, causing me confusion in parts. Either the effect is intended and not particularly well done, or it wasn’t intended and some typographical element should’ve indicated each shift, say.

    As for the story itself, I find myself in two minds. Stories which build on past stories are tricky beasts to get right. There’s a balance to be struck in giving the reader what they need to know in terms of what’s come from the original story, yet not going too far and spending too much time re-telling the original. And while it’s been some many years since I last read the Island of Doctor Moreau, I felt that far too much of the story was taken up retelling that before moving on to the ‘new’ story being told.

    I was initially going to be a bit harsher on the story, but some of the comments above have convinced me that there is some merit to it. Cut the story in half, and explore the idea of reintroducing predators/natural selection a bit more than the almost throwaway mention it gets.

  13. SF Strangelove Says:

    Matt D. says: “… Goss is more interested in conversing with Wells’s original story than in extending it.”

    That sums up the problem for me. The back-story is interesting, still the story doesn’t fully engage until the ending. Perhaps the “children” and “brutal murders” would have made a better starting point.

  14. Gary Couzens Says:

    Just as an aside – is this story legally publishable in the UK? The Island of Dr Moreau appears to be public domain in the USA (it’s available on Project Gutenberg) but it’s still in copyright here until the end of 2016.

    I’d imagine you’d have to ask permission of the Wells estate, as Stephen Baxter did with his Time Machine sequel The Time Ships. I wonder if Goss did do that?

    This does have an impact on which stories can be twice-told and where you can publish the results!

    I haven’t had a chance to read the story itself, so can’t comment there.

  15. Duncan Lawie Says:

    Strictly, Wells’ work went out of copyright for a few years from 1996, as there was a 50 year rule in place, but then came back into copyright again with the 70 year rule.

    Nevertheless, there is some freedom for an author to write a story based on what has previously been published. Does anyone ask Ursula K Le Guin for permission to use the term Ansible? I would have thought that pastiche or re-use is valid up to the point where plagiarism could be invoked.

    On the story itself, I was frustrated by the lack of typographical clues about whether we were on The Island or in England. There was also rather a lot of pointing at Victorian mores without either understanding or deconstructing them – e.g.

    “How could a country as small as yours conquer a country as large as India?” “We had guns.”

    Surely a Victorian Englishman would say “We had culture/God/right”

    Mashing in the ending reference to ‘the Limehouse Murders’ seemed to push too much stuff into the story, diffusing the focus from any response to the original book. Instead, there is a temptation to draw the Goss story into comparison with Moore and O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

  16. Lois Tilton Says:

    “Whatever happens,
    We have got
    The Maxim gun
    And he has not.”

  17. Rose Fox Says:

    I also haven’t read the source text, and this story certainly gave me no reason to do so. The pace plods, the dialogue is stilted, and I was quite startled by Abigail’s mention of “a very typical ending for a horror story” because it didn’t occur to me that this was a horror story. Which, if it was intended to be a horror story, is problematic.

    I’m not sure what it’s intended to be, though, and that makes it kind of difficult for me to engage with it or like it.

    Not much more to say that Jonathan didn’t already cover in his first comment, except to note that I liked most of the stories in In the Forest of Forgetting and I’m a feminist who likes Goss’s usual feminist bent, and I wasn’t particularly put off by this story in that regard. I do think she’s not sure how to be a feminist within this story: the woman is extremely strong and extremely smart, confident of her intelligence, driven to seek out education and further her goals in a man’s world, and certain of her moral compass; yet her moral compass is different from the rest of the world’s (perhaps justifiably, perhaps not–that was one of the things I liked least about the story, that there is no examination or justification of this racism- and sexism-recalling notion that beast-people aren’t real people), her career goal involves killing children (no nurturing woman here!), she’s prostituted herself for money, and she’s generally emotionless and not a sympathetic character in any way. It would have been really interesting to confront and engage with those seeming contractions and grapple with how the story could still come out as a feminist story, because real women have to grapple with these kinds of contradictions all the time, but I don’t see any sign of Goss even thinking along those lines. She just presents the contradictions, draws no conclusion from them, and gives no indication of whether the reader is supposed to draw a conclusion where she does not.

    Plus it was just kind of boring, so I’m not really motivated to poke at it.

    @Matt: I don’t know about Goss or Link, but I’m pretty sure Valente tried her hand at SF because a) someone solicited a story from her and b) she saw it as an intriguing challenge.

  18. Rose Fox Says:

    engage with those seeming contractions

    Er, contradictions. This is what I get for commenting right after I wake up.

  19. marco Says:

    I liked it with reservations. An interesting exercise. I found the Victorian setting much more convincing than others.

    Some points:

    – Yes, there are typos and the prose feels awkward at times. However, herd of sheep is not uncommon and the original meaning of sanctuary is “sacred place”. I think that the sudden shifts between the Island and England were intended, and they worked well for me. Catherine is extremely intelligent, but she hasn’t exactly learned English in a public school.

    – The very first sentence is uttered by Mrs. Pertwee, therefore Prendick’s comments about his isolation are qualified from the start. The fact that he doesn’t care to see her “whatever housekeepers customarily do to horsehair sofas and china ornaments ” signals how strongly his perception is influenced by his Victorian mindset. And he’s nothing if not consistent throughout the story.

    “Somewhere, there was a man, and it was at his whistle that the dog ran to and fro. What dogs had done, and men had done, and sheep had done, for a hundred years. A quintessentially English scene.”

    Is portentous rubbish. What is so quintessentially English about sheep farming? I’m pretty sure that other places have sheep-farming too.

    Again, this is Prentwick speaking, not the author , and passages like this are very frequent in the Literature of the time. They underscore the contrast between a sane, pastoral England and the wild and untamed lands overseas.

    I would have thought that some of his previous experiences – stranded on island with mad scientist, having sex with a puma-woman, eating people – might have freed him from such social conventions and gifted him with a more literal view of the world.

    Adventure novels were very popular in the Victorian era, and the heroes endured incredible hardships, lost friends and family, befriended negroes and sultans without the slightest effect on their class conscience back home.

    – What surprises me most in the discussion is how aproblematically you accept the human/animal opposition.

    As A.S.Byatt pointed out, Darwinism forced Victorian society to confront the revelation that humans ARE animals. Animals with just a thin veneer of culture and civilization. What really differentiates Prentwick from the beast people is his adherence to Victorian mores and taboos. A formal and hypocritical adherence, but hypocrisy lies at the heart of Victorian values. Montgomery renounces them and quickly devolves into a “gorilla man”. There’s nothing particularly “human” in Prentwick’s behaviour, if we take human to mean morally developed. All his interactions are devoid of compassion, and his guilt is a product of upbringing, not empathy.
    As for Catherine, she is the model of the brilliant sociopath. Her talk about predators and selective pressure is an archetypical serial killer fantasy.
    So for me in the end the question is again one of nature or nurture.
    Are serial killers born or made? Are they a different species living among us or abused individuals who have learned to hide their scars?

  20. Matt Denault Says:

    I found the seamless jumps between time and place confusing at first, but came to appreciate them. Once I had learned to expect them, I could appreciate the placement of some of the story’s transitions, and their seamless nature does seem to fit the story in several ways (Catherine herself, and also the difficulty of separating human from animal).

    That said, @ marco: Are serial killers born or made? Are they a different species living among us or abused individuals who have learned to hide their scars?

    I’m not sure the story has anything interesting to say about this, though, given that Catherine is both born and made who she is.

    @ Gary: I’d imagine you’d have to ask permission of the Wells estate, as Stephen Baxter did with his Time Machine sequel The Time Ships. I wonder if Goss did do that?

    This does have an impact on which stories can be twice-told and where you can publish the results!

    Slightly related and amusing anecdote: I was listening to Lev Grossman talk about his novel The Magicians a few months ago at Readercon. Grossman revealed that in his writing and selling of the book, and until pretty far along in the production process, the fantasyland in the book was explicitly Narnia. Grossman wrote it assuming that Lewis’s books had passed into the public domain, an impression that seemed to be confirmed when he saw Neil Gaiman’s short story “The Problem of Susan.” Fairly late in the production process, however, this was discovered not to be the case, and the publisher’s legal department insisted on not just a name change (enter Fillory) but a number of cuts to remove iconic Narnia settings from the book.

    Some time later, Grossman asked Neil Gaiman how Gaiman had gotten around the problem of permissions from the Lewis estate in order to publish his story. Gaiman replied that it had simply never occurred to him to ask.

    The moral of this story is either that nobody cares about permissions when it comes to short stories, or that nobody messes with Neil Gaiman.

  21. Martin Says:

    Again, this is Prentwick speaking, not the author

    It is true that the “editor’s note” at the end insists on a particular reading but I’m afraid it was too late for me by this point. That is to say I read it as Prentwick’s internal, unmediated thoughts rather than an actual text he has produced. It certainly doesn’t read like a factual account to me – presumably this mirror the original novel? – it is structured as fiction from the opening to the closing sentence.

  22. Maureen Kincaid Speller Says:

    Going back to Jonathan’s point about Goss’s prose (and I’m not sure I’m necessarily defending it as niggling away at one or two points), I think he’s right to say it is an attempt to imitate the Victorian over-ornamentation that backfires; it’s a hard thing to do well, and too easy to either miss the mark or descend into pastiche. (Topsy-Turvy is also one of my favourite films.)

    I think that has happened twice, in fact, in the way she also tries to use the form of the first-person narrative/editorial comment by another hand and becomes trapped in it, needing the nephew’s editorial intervention in order to complete a story that didn’t need that intervention.

    As to why Prendick would say what he does … we’re perhaps also sidling into the problem of the unreliable narrator, whether hysterically unreliable or deliberate concealment through omission. I had a distinct impression that Goss was trying to play with that colonial habit of operating dual social codes, usig Catherine to suggest that there was a gap between truth and written account. Even if, as Martin suggests, his experiences on the island had given him a rather broader view, as is suggested at the end of the original novel, it quickly becomes expedient not to say anything. I can’t think of a more effective symbol of stultifying respectability than the unused parlour, even if Goss dies refer to it rather clumsily.

    Also, I may as well add here that I’m slightly surprised, re. the naming of Catherine, that no one else has picked up the fact that his second wife, his former student, was Amy Catherine Robbins. Seems a little too much of a coincidence for my taste.

  23. Maureen Kincaid Speller Says:

    I wanted too to pick up on Niall’s response to Matt H about selective pressure and Darwinisn. I don’t disagree that it’s an interesting notion to raise, but it doesn’t seem to me to arise naturally from what’s been going on in the short story up until this point, and I’m not even sure (on one admittedly cursory reading) it obviously emerges from the novel. It’s a good question to ask, but I think Matt D. has nailed one of the major problems with this story when he says that Goss is more interested in conversing with the original than extending it. And ‘conversing’ is the mot juste. It’s a touching upon issues in a socially chatty kind of way (reflected, I think, in the motif of the visit itself) rather than a serious detailed engagement with any of them

  24. Short Story Club « Torque Control Says:

    […] “The Puma” by Theodora Goss [discussion] […]


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