Tuesday, 26 April 2016

The Master of Silence by Irving Bacheller, 1892

Irving Bacheller appears to be one of that type of novelist that is somewhat popular in his day and then fades from public memory. While not a complete enigma like some of the authors presented on here prior, Bacheller's life seems oddly lacking in interesting episodes. A WWI war corespondent and founder of the first modern Newspaper Syndicate who brought Kipling, Doyle and Conrad to the US reading public, his one major goof seems to have been sending writer Stephen Crane as a war correspondent to Cuba where the poor bloke got himself stranded on a dinghy for two days when his ship went under.

The Master of Silence appears to be Bacheller's first novel. It deals with a young man named Kendric who is visited one night by a strange mute person handing him a card from his mysterious, long unseen uncle Revis Lane (this family has a bit of an aversion to common names it would seem), urging the recipient (the boy's father, unknowingly to the writer long since departed) to come, citing "Consequences of vast importance to me and to mandkind" as incentive. Before the boy can get an answer to his questions, the mute servant suddenly up and dies, leaving the thing a mystery.

A few years later Mr. Earl, a man whose connection to the Lane family is never properly dwelled upon, ships off Kendric to look for his uncle in America. Then we skip two years and Kendric's already at his witts end. He finally discovers his uncle in a weird lake-side house shut up from all sides, only discovered via the medium of convenient newspaper article and here he comes to meet his cousin Rayel, who was intentionally raised by Revis Lane in complete isolation without ever having been taught how to speak because of Revis' idea that speech clouds the minds and distances us from the truth of things. Of course you have to have only a cursory understanding of feral children to know this is anything but the truth.

Of course the novel doesn't dwell on the sadism of the man deciding that since his wife died in childbirth he might literally make his own son into a living science experiment, dammaging him beyond repair in god knows how many ways but it's okay because he brings up God a few times.

Once Revis Lane dies Rayel is taken to the outside world and you'd think this would now be a novel about him trying to fit in with humanity after having spent his entire life with his father and two mutes inside of one house. But not really. Well it sort of is like that for a few pages, but it's mostly about Rayel's ability to somehow see through people's lies and the subsequent societal embarassment caused thereby. And then he and Kendric run into Kendric's old sweetheart, by complete accident again, who is now a famous actress. Now you'd think this would lead to some romantic entanglement involving both the cousins and the lady in question and it does for about two pages but then Rayel basically says he'll walk it off and you're left wondering what the point even was.

Around this same time Kendric gets beaten up by the accomplices of a sinister count whom Rayel accused of bank robbery while at a dinner table, and then after they move back to England there's some refference to a plot by Kendric's foster mother and her new husband to try and kill him except it's not really dwelt on at all, and then there's a confused scene of Kendric starting a fire and Rayel being horribly burned carying him out.....and if you're wondering if that's the end then pretty much yeah.

Despite the fact that barely anything happened.

This is a strange book. The first chapter draws you in with the sudden appearance of a mute bearing a cryptic note and even the search for Revis Lane leaves you with some hope but then it switches between taking potshots at high society, romance and adventure all within the span of a few pages and it barely dwells on any of it long enough to leave an impression.

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