Ibis Mummies and Jade Cicadas

January 22, 2010 § 2 Comments

Just finished: The Jade Cabinet, by Rikki Ducornet.

Reading next: The Gambler, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

The Jade Cabinet — my wife Jaime’s pick for me for our annual exchange of books we force the other person to read — is rather too cool to belabor with my typical blather.  So I’ll just give you a sense of a few of my favorite plot points and devices.  If they intrigue you, pick up the book.  You won’t regret it:

1.  Two words: ibis mummies.

Ibis mummies. From Description de l'Egypte Antiquites, v. 2. Image via Linda Hall Library

Millions of them, in fact, from the plundered tombs of Egypt, being crushed into a powder to be used as fertilizer by an evil British industrialist.

2.  “The cabinet was Ming and of sober elegance, and the jade of such rare perfection that as he fingered them our father trembled…. the jade represented an insect, a cicada…. ‘Han period… southern China…” breathed my father.”

Jade cicada, Eastern Han dynasty (25-220), Hebei Provincial Museum. Image from the Hong Kong Heritage Museum.

The figurines in the jade cabinet are an awesome device.  I know it’s Angus Sphery’s fault for being such a damned fool and trading his daughter away for the jade, but come on… pretty gorgeous stuff.  Jade cicadas were placed in the mouths of the dead as symbols of immortality in ancient China.

3.  Etheria and Memory are photographed and befriended by Charles Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll.  Ducornet’s handling of this is admirably nonjudgmental.

Alice Liddell, photographed by Lewis Carroll. Image from Fixing Shadows, http://people.virginia.edu/~ds8s/carroll/alice02.html.

4.  Etheria’s beloved gardens and grotto at the New Age, tragically paved over to make way for Tubbs and Baconfield’s “Temple to Industry and Infancy,” a windowless building to house the nursery of Tubbs’s unborn son and instill in him a proper appreciation for clockwork, mechanization, and all things industrial and efficient, no sunlight or nature required. (I’m guessing the clock tower on the Baconfield building is something Brutalist like this, but less fanciful.)

5.  My favorite character: Feather, Tubbs’s subversive servant, who teaches Etheria magic and presents fat-cat Tubbs calling cards from Mr. Marx, so that, when Tubbs says he’s never heard of him, Feather can respond, “Indeed, Sir, you are bound to, sooner or later.”  My heart broke a little at his tragic fate.

Karl Marx. From the Warren J. Samuels Portrait Collection at Duke University, http://econ.duke.edu/HOPE/CENTER/center_portraits.php

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§ 2 Responses to Ibis Mummies and Jade Cicadas

  • *jaime says:

    now that you’ve read this book we need to revisit the Walters Museum in Baltimore–the Egyptian rooms and Wunderkammer rooms are so Jade Cabinetesque.

  • […] 5.  The Jade Cabinet, by Rikki Ducornet.  About the (mostly male) urges to possess, consume, destroy; madnesses and neuroses; memory and Memory (our narrator) and the many ways to tell a story.  It’s much like Pynchon if Pynchon were a prose poet and not an onslaught of words and ideas.   (That’s a good thing.)  I wrote a little about it here. […]

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