Tuesday, 30 January 2007

Literary malacologists

Malacologists don't feature prominently in fiction so whenever one pops up, it's worth making a note of it. A bivalve-fancier plays a bit part in Terry Pratchett's Going postal.

    'That's Devious Collarbone, sir. He's out studying Oyster Communications in a Low Intensity Magical Field for his B. Thau.'

    'Good gods, can they communicate?' asked Ridcully.

    'Apparently, Archchancellor, although thus far they're refusing to talk to him.'

This malacologist is somewhat more engaging than the only other one I can recall without resorting to Google—Seth LaMarque (ahem) of James Bradley's The Deep Field. LaMarque is a blind palaeontologist who works on ammonites and is the author of the impenetrable The language of shells, excerpts from which are scattered throughout Bradley's novel.

    But perhaps it is in the shell that we find the most eloquent expression of this. For in its wholeness unto itself, the perfection of its curved shape and the accretive spiral of its growth, it is an expression of the simplicity of the constitutive principles that underpin life, of the unity of nature, and an expression of an order so perfect, so complete, that it offers no response beyond awe. And silence.

Which one would you rather meet at a conference?


jj said...

What about the father in "The Man Who Loved Children" ... Christina Stead's one? Something marine-ish I think; I seem to have lost my copy.

Snail said...

I haven't read it!

Now you've made me want to Google for mollusc-mad characters.

jj said...

I loved it ... but you won't find anything encouraging or inspiring in it ... and his work doesn't feature either in any meaningful way ... I don't know why I mentioned it!

I loved The Bone People too ... am just perverse ... flitty brain!


Could LaMarque have been inspired by Geerat Vermeij, the real life blind malacologist/palaeontologist who wrote, among other books, the very penetrableA Natural History of Shells?

I've met Vermeij.

Snail said...

I wondered about that, Aydin, but I haven't come to any conclusion! Malacologists always think of Vermeij.