tant que je vive

And if you know exactly what I’m going to talk about already, I’m either your friend or need to become so immediately!

I spent about six hours last night re-reading choice bits of the end of The Ringed Castle (‘I reserve the right,’ said Lymond, ‘to change the metre.’) and Checkmate (‘Don’t be surprised: your sire loved me also?’) and have come away with an even deeper appreciation of just how seriously. fucking. good. Dorothy Dunnett was.

In a hundred years, if we haven’t destroyed ourselves in some nuclear apocalypse or global warming induced natural disaster, the Lymond chronicles will still be read by generations of precocious readers and writers of certain romantic sensibility. And a fraction of them will go on to a lifetime of admiration and informed, coy, clever emulation. The fact that I can read a book now and predict with what seems (anecdotally, at least) to be an uncanny degree of accuracy if the author has read the Lymond chronicles speaks to just how much of a nerve those books hit with people. And what I mean is, they change lives.

Sometimes I think of Lymond as the literary version of the Velvet Underground…not many people bought the record, but everyone who did started a band.

I have some vague ideas about how to turn this secret cabal of Lymond-lovers into a more public (and surely fascinating) discussion at a con, but I first need to figure out how many of them are going to be traipsing around Calgary come November.

In the meantime, as an all-too-brief illustration of the many, many layers of meaning that Dunnett was capable of infusing into every word, I give you this from Checkmate:


Around the middle of the book, there’s a scene where Philippa is discussing Lymond’s headaches with Adam Blacklock. In the previous few pages, Philippa has been berating herself internally for her miserable devotion to Lymond and, parenthetically, her bad internal habit of referring to him as “Francis” instead of “Mr. Crawford.” But Adam’s news has disconcerted Philippa– her control is off and she’s tired. How do we know this? Because, in referring to Lymond, she stumbles over his name. But where a normal writer would have written: “Fr…Mr. Crawford,” to indicate her unacceptable mental familiarity, Dunnett writes: “F…Francis.” Thus conveying the same thing AND that Philippa caught herself doing it AND was smart enough to just go through saying the name once she’d started so as to call less attention to it. Which of course doesn’t work at all.


I LOVE these books.


One thought on “tant que je vive

  1. Lorelei says:

    Always nice to discover another Dunnett fan. I am the only person I know who’s read them (and no one I’ve recommended them to has been able to look past all the obscure references and get hooked on the plot – and character – as I did). I think these books are the most brilliant historical fiction ever written (which is ridiculous since I haven’t read it all – but I’ve never encountered its like). Now if only we could write an adequate screen play . . .

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