D and I were cold-stricken, and for our health were going to stay in quietly for Hogmanay. That is, until five minutes before the bells – D urged us outside, and up the short walk to the Royal Mile, to be with the crowd, to see the fireworks.
There is a sense of anticipation, amiable, drunken. There are premature shouts of ‘happy new year’. We can’t see the castle from here, but the bridge overlooks the gardens and Princes St, where some band are playing, lights flashing on the wall of the museum on the mound. Beside us, a group of men dressed as Edwardians (complete with genuine waxed moustaches) light up their pipes. There is a clock on the far side of the bridge, on clock tower of The Balmoral Hotel, but no one seems sure whether to trust it. It is the fireworks that will tell us –
And, as part of my wish for the moment of the year change, I read a little of my first book of the year, Bhanu Kapil’s Humanimal: A Project for Future Children.
A confession: I couldn’t resist starting it an hour before the bells. I’ve now finished it, 36 minutes into the new year.
So this is my review, which will probably be typical. Impressionistic and lacking in any great insights:
This is a prose-poem hybrid of a novel describing the writer’s journey to India as part of a film crew making a documentary on the true tale of two girls raised by wolves from infancy and recovered, somewhat, into the human fold by a minister who kept them in an orphanage until they died. It is a haunted text, haunted by the lost faces of the girls (apparently never successfully captured in a photograph together, except once, in sleep, entwined in a kind of nest comprised of themselves), the writer haunted by their fleetingness, their unreal realness. The texture of the landscape of India adds a weight that the absence of the girls, the unreliability of memory and record lack.
“21. Slow, wet orange sun and such a bright full moon over the jungle’s horizon Looking down from the lodge, there are long saffron scratches where the sun has caught a mineral vein. Notes for film: “A girl emerges from a darker space into the upper rooms of the jungle. Blurry photographs/transitions of light.” How does this sentence go into animals? Notes for an animal-human mix: “reaching and touching were the beginning actions.”” Humanimal, Bhanu Kapil.
In repetition of colours, yellows, pinks, reds, browns, blues, whites, we have echoes of the bodies of the girls. We have touchstones of familiarity. The attempt is to find out something, not to crudely expose in the manner of a carnival. To probe the experience of being so ‘other’ but human at the same time. Overlap, blurring, membranes. If it sounds unclear, then it is – until the text is read. There is a lot going on, but the words on the page are not deliberately obscure. They are reaching to unite observation, difficult concepts, into art. Details of malnutrition and tangled hair and troubled feeding are not concealed, smoothed away in language, but held up for examination, turned in various directions. In other places, Kapil talks about her childhood, growing up in Britain as an outsider, demarcated by her skin colour, her father’s terrible scars. Humanimal is a short, rich book – one I hope to return to at a later time to re-visit its vivid, yearning nature.