So, I started reading the first story in Yearn : tales of lust and longing on Sunday night thinking that I could read it all that night as well as start Stardust… and I only finished it last night. The reason why it took me three night to read it when normally I read a short story in one go? It was 70 odd pages long! That is not what I call a short story! But to its credit it was a great story and definitely needed as much explanation as was given, so it can be forgiven. *Spoiler Alert: If you don’t want to know the basic plot of this story, don’t read on*
The story is set in Victorian England and is about a young biographer who has almost finished writing a biography on a famous explorer but has just about run out of money as his father doesn’t support him anymore. He is therefore relying on his new book to be a success, when he finds out that his arch-enemy (and coincidentally, the uncle of his fiance) is writing a biography on the same subject, and as he is more well-known and respected, his book would be more popular leaving our hero’s book to fall into obscurity.
The only hope for the young biographer is to find some nugget of information on his subject that is new so that his book will make an impact. He looks over all the resources he has found, with no luck, and then, while he’s wallowing in despair a chimney sweep comes to clean his chimney. They get into a conversation about work, and when the sweep hears of the subject of the book he reveals that he swept the chimney of the very house that the great man once lived in, and in fact found a canvas bag up there with a journal in it belonging to the man. Trying to hide his desperate excitement the biographer asks if he can look over the papers to help with his writings (leaving out the importance of this find, so he doesn’t have to pay the sweep).
On reading the journal he discovers it contain detailed descriptions of an elaborate ritual the explorer participated in with his lover in Tahiti that involves taboo sex acts (involving two men and two women) and animal sacrifice. The biographer is elated as he knows that this controversial material is just what his book needs to become a hit, but the purpose of the ritual interests him even more. The ritual is meant to channel the participates sexual energy to a goddess that will allow the person conducting the ceremony to see through another’s eyes for an hour as long as they have a personal item of the person they want to inhabit. In a recent altercation between the biographer and his rival, one of the rival’s gloves comes into his possession and this gives the young man an idea – he could recreate the ritual, which would not only prove to him that the journal was real, but also allow him a peak at his rivals work.
To perform the ritual the biographer borrows a large amount of money from family members to buy the supplies, hire two prostitutes and enlist the help of the chimney sweep. The four travel to the woods and perform the ritual and at the moment of joint climax, the biographer does find himself looking out through his enemy’s eyes. What he sees sickens him, but you don’t find out exactly what it is until the end.
The biographer publishes the book to high acclaim, and there is even rumours that it will be banned (which is course a writer’s best publicity) but then the biographer receives a message saying that his writing has been called into question by his rival, and he has to prove it is not fiction at a public debate the next day. The biographer has the manuscript, but he also needs the chimney sweep as a witness. The biographer goes into the chimney sweep’s impoverished neighbourhood, despite the fact that there has been a outbrake of cholera, but finds that the man he seeks has died of the disease. Dismayed, the biographer returns home, uncertain of what he will say in his defence, and is visited by none other than his rival. The rival reveals that he knows the diary was a fake because he hired the chimney sweep (an actor) and wrote the diary himself, using his knowledge of the explorer’s writing style and handwriting, and he simply copied the details of the ritual from an old grimoire. The rival threatens to reveal he is a fake, but the biographer becomes enraged, and proclaims that the ritual works because he performed it himself. At this point his fiance (and his rival’s niece) enters and accuses the biographer of betrayal. He then explains what he saw through his rival’s eyes – the man having sex with his own niece. He makes the rival a deal – he won’t expose him and his niece if he withdraws his accusation and publically endorses the book at the debate.
It was a great story, and even had potential to become a novel, but I’m glad the next one is much shorter 🙂