Across a Nightingale Floor
I belong to an active science fiction and fantasy book group that meets monthly in the fabulous new Storyhouse library / theatre / cinema / restaurant. We are an eclectic mix of old and young, male and female but mainly from Earth.
Our book for March 2019 was “Across the Nightingale Floor” by Lian Hearn. This is not a book review as such and this blog post would not have been written were it not for the intriguing title. In brief the novel, probably targeted at teens, is set in medieval Japan, but using generic settings and mores of the era rather than real geography as I prefer to do.
It’s a classic revenge story in which our hero discovers he has powers such as super hearing, invisibility, being in two places at once, and being able to walk noiselessly and super carefully on a cunningly constructed wooden floor so that the creaks sound like a nightingale. As it happens Lian Hearn (aka Gillian Rubenstein and G. M. Hanson) knew of the reality of such floors as aural security devices and thought it would make a great premise. Trouble with this book is that while it is indeed a marvellous idea, it hardly features and our hero rushes across the floor in a kind of anti-climax. In spite of that I can recommend the novel especially to young readers who’d like to meet feudal Japanese troubles and cultures. A boy and a girl, apart but destined to meet, are both in dire trouble, trapped by evil or beneficent Lords. The boy has slowly developing superpowers that are fun to discover. I do wonder if the lad, Takeo, has so many superpowers that he could do anything. It was H.G. Wells who observed that “When anything can happen, nothing is interesting.”
However, returning to that clever, musical floor. Haven’t all of experienced this? As children we needed to tiptoe across floorboards at night, learning which boards complain at the slightest weight. As parents we discovered the burglars’ knowledge that the edges of wooden stairs are the more silent.
More interesting are musical roads. I used to drive on a road in the Scottish Borders between Coldstream and Berwick-upon-Tweed, where my dad lived. I could have sworn that the ridges in the road talked to me. “S L O W D O W N” it said for at least a mile. After a bit of research I discovered it was the result of a highways department experiment to calm traffic. However, I understand that the opposite effect resulted. Some drivers varied their speed to see when the noise the ridges made with the tyres spoke and some would go really fast for the fun of it. There is a link to something similar here
I am reminded of road noise because we are intending to relocate our home from quiet rural-ish Chester to a suburb of Manchester. Sadly, Urmston is surrounded by motorways and busy A roads. I am keen to avoid living where traffic noise beats bird noise. Also because it would mean traffic pollutants would float up into my nostrils. I might be tempted though if a nearby road sang some Richard Strauss to me.
A plus then for Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn is the use she makes of sounds other than speech – a sensory achievement often ignored by so many writers.
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Infectious amnesia. Free on KindleUnlimited or
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