The Birdcage Archives

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Distant Light

Hello Gentle Reader

Light is complicated and convoluted.  Light changes with the seasons, and its mood shifts with the weather. It wears different tints and costumes for every time and occasion. There is the virginal and fresh glow of a pink dawn; the bursting flames of an evening dress with sunset; the mourning veil of dusk; the departing sadness of twilight. In spring the light is green and new; ever quick to bud and refresh; come summer it’s a haze of lazy nights, and a scorching scorn of a sweltering afternoon; in the autumn its matured and cooler, enjoying maturation and freedom; by winter its crisp, cold and clear, with sparkling individual words littering the landscape. Light, however, changes from bulb to tube. Light itself ripples beneath the unsettled surface of water. Light twinkles with break neck speed; but dims and dulls at an equally competitive haste. This being said, light is everywhere, and is taken for granted or overlooked. Light as most will testify too, is only noticed when it begins to slip away; which is at its pinnacle of noticeability in winter. Yet even then, it’s not the light we mourn; but rather the day. In Antonio Moresco’s novel: “Distant Light,” – light is treated in both a literal and metaphorical sense. It is a physical construct or phenomena which can tangibly be perceived. However, what causes the light in some circumstances is yet another area of concern.

Antonio Moresco is one of Italy’s most renowned writers, currently being published. Moresco has been compared to the American writers Thomas Pychon and Don DeLillo. Despite these comparisons Moresco has not always, been a well-known or read writer. Antonio Moresco did not see publication of any of his works until later in his career; and to this day is more known for his trilogy, “L'increato,” more than anything else. Born in 1947; he did not see publication until 1993; but since then Moresco had steadily and prolifically been producing work after work. “Distant Light,” is his first publication in English.

“Distant Light,” is a short novel, which could be read quickly on a particularly dour spring day filled with rain. It could be read in the shade, on a sweltering summer afternoon. It could be breezed through in the early evening in autumn. It can be devoured in a dark night of the soul, in an insomnia filled winter night. Despite being literally a short novel, “Distant Light,” is a condensed book whose context lingers long afterwards it’s been devoured, shelved and left. The story is poignant, and raises greater questions, than it does answer them. The novel is both an ethereal ghost story, as well as a bewildering light filled science fiction novel.

The nameless narrator of “Distant Light,” is a recluse; for reasons in which they are not entirely made clear. However there is slight and hesitant inclination, to suggest the narrator belonged to the army, and the experience must have left him in rough shape, in which he seeks refuge in solitude; in solitary confinement, befit for an individual who fantasizes about the rapture or end of the world happening from his abandoned village. Despite this solitary existence, the narrator is not without his own thoughts and nature for company. He often asks the natural world abstract questions. Such as:

[ a question to wasps]

“But why are you always so angry?” I ask. “Why do you drop headfirst into the pulp of unpicked fruit that’s rotting on the trees in this deserted unearthly place? So that sometimes, when I split one open to eat it, I find one of you inside, and you fly off in a rage, covered all over with dead liquids and the juices in which you were wallowing. Where do you live, where do you sleep? What happens, day and night, in your savage nests?” 

“But they never answer?”

It is not just the angry and anxious wasps he asks these questions to. He asks trees how they can continue to live despite parts of them dying; he inquires about fireflies and their lamps; he ponders air roots and why they exist. Few if any respond. The only natural element which sees it fit to respond are birds, specifically swallows; but now and then another bird adds its tune to the chorus:

[ with regards to the: “creaking door bird,” ]

“There’s a bird somewhere down below, in the woods in front of my house, that sounds like a door creaking.”

[ . . . ]

“And you, what kind of bird are you?”
It made no reply, but I imagined instead that it did reply:
“I’m the creaky door bird.”
“But why dom’t I ever see you? I search among the foliage when I hear your sound, but I don’t see you . . .”
“Isn’t it just the same with creaky doors? You turn around and look and no one’s there.”
“But someone will have made them creak, even if they’ve then quickly hidden themselves so they can’t be seen!”
“Sometimes there’s no one, it’s just the wind.”
“So you’re the wind then?”
“No, I’m the door that’s made to creak by the wind.”
“So why do I sometimes hear you when there’s no wind?”
“I’m the bird that also makes the wind creak.”

Nature for the pondering narrator is generally his only source of company, with the sole exception of the sporadic moments; he is required to go down to the nearby village to purchase food. Nature is a poetic companion, but also a chaotic construct, one in which meaning and purpose is not explicitly outlined or seen. Yet for the narrator, this ‘unearthly,’ and often savage place is a perfect place in which one could retire to, in which they chose to: disappear; as those are his intentions, by his opening statement of the book.

Still, for the anguish ridden narrator, the twinkling light across the gorge, becomes consuming, filled with questions, inquiries, and ponderings. To the point in which he asks locals their thoughts on what could possibly be an explanation for the light across the way. Perhaps, a likeminded individual has also joined the desire to disappear, as our narrator; but as the villagers pointed out, this is not the case. No one lives in those parts of the mountains, as the place has remained abandoned and reclaimed by the savage vegetation. This leaves only one theory to be proposed to the narrator: extraterrestrials. The theory of alien life, and their lights, sends him to a odd individual, a shepherd of sorts, who is described as an Albanian, who has been documenting alien sightings and odd lights within the region. The Albanian offers his own story of a shell less egg of light, which had taken his sheep and goats, and would later return them; but he himself had saw the strange egg of light, before it too disappeared into the unknowable void of space.

The short detour from poetic and surreal inquiries into nature was brief and short; but not renounced completely. At first it appeared that Moresco had fallen into some strange mixture of science fiction, while asking the question: Are we alone in the universe; or does other intelligent life out there also exist. Yet rather than elucidate further, Moresco jumps back on the already beaten path, and continues for the most part with a realistic narrative; but deviations do eventually happen again, but this time, not as a science fiction trope; rather a ghost story; and in this ghost story, Antonio Moresco begins to ask questions about life and death, as well as meaning and purpose in a world in which we are well aware of our own life eventually coming to its eventual end.

The living and the dead co-exist in the savage vegetal and foliage covered world of “Distant Light.” However it’s a poetic account of one man attempting to disappear and also find his place in an increasingly savage world; amongst angry wasps, skittish badgers, and damaged dogs. It’s a novel where questions are posed, and answers are rarely given; and companionship comes in unlikely shapes and forms. “Distant Light,” is a well-crafted novel, which should be read slowly in order to appreciate the poetic encounters of nature, but also with the thoughts given to the concept of death, and how the living and the dead co-exist. Though, at times eccentric and odd, “Distant Light,” is also rewarding to the end.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary

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