Yesterday Never Dies; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

Review: Yesterday Never Dies: A Romance of Metempsychosis, Brian Stableford, 2012.

There are forbidden books and there are books that are forbidding.  . . . Some texts remain unread because they are so difficult to find, others hide in plain view, unread because they are unreadable. Alas, that does not necessarily mean that there is nothing in them.

So says August Dupin at one point in this story.

This is certainly not a forbidding book and as enjoyable as previous books in the series. It is, so far, the last, and there is an air of conclusion here. And not just of Dupin’s and narrator Reynolds’ story.

As befits a novel concerned with cycles and rebirths, the French Republic is in its last days. Dupin’s friend Lucien Groix, Prefect of the Police, thinks the country on the verge of revolution and that he may have to flee to avoid imprisonment.  

And there is another cycle, a cycle of ghosts.

The novel opens in an opera house on Oct. 31, 1847. Dupin invites Reynolds to take a specific place in a boxed seat then doesn’t show up at the last minute.

The opera being performed is a revival of Meyerbeer’s Robert le Diable

The opera house is crowded with people and intrigue. Pierre Chapelain, the mesmerist from previous episodes in the series, is in a box opposite Reynolds with some masked woman. Series regular Comte St. Germain accosts Reynolds though, for once, he’s only wants to know who that woman is. Groix shows up and, before he leaves, asks Reynolds to pass on a message to Dupin to see him immediately in the morning.

During intermission, Reynolds goes over to Chapelain’s box. The woman is an anonymous patient of his. She seems to have known Groix. She also mentions a Professor Thibodeaux, now dead. And she met Dupin once. All three were in the opera house that stood at the same location before it burned down. That was thirteen years ago.

And then Jana Valdemar, from Valdemar’s Daughter of course, shows up. It seems she has left Saint-Germain to take up with Chapelain.

And then things get strange. Because, when the opera resumes, a ghost shows up in Reynolds’ opera box. And he knows that Dupin expected it to and that is why he reserved a three-seat opera box for only two.

“Yesterday never dies . . . but such is the rhythm of time that one has to grasp its echoes on the wing”,

says the ghost.

And then, instinctively, Reynolds knows the ghost is Thibodeaux as he appeared on this site in 1834.

Dupin – who actually is off stage a large part of this story – confirms the ghost was Thibodeaux. He didn’t really think Thibodeaux would appear but sent Reynolds to watch for him anyway.

Thibodeaux, Reynolds learns, was an independent scholar obsessed with the ideas of cycles both natural and social. Dupin read his first book and wasn’t impressed thinking it a scholarly fantasy in which Thibodeaux constantly contorted facts and coincidences to fit. However, after Dupin hears about the ghost, he has to admit Thibodeaux got one thing right: he did appear on the night and at the place he predicted he would thirteen years ago. 

And thus a strange and tumultuous adventure begins for Reynolds.

Dupin didn’t make it to the opera because he was caring for his sick housekeeper Lacuzon who has an infection. Infection, in fact, is a theme running throughout the book in keeping with many references to the nascent science of bacteriology. At one point, when he contradicts Dupin’s contention that Lacuzaon is improving because he sees something in her eyes, Reynolds talks about being “tainted forever” by his contact with the Crawling Chaos of “The Legacy of Erich Zann”.

And, Dupin sees another infection in Reynolds: his attraction to the seductive Valdemar. And, says Dupin, he is also possessed as Saint-Germain, Chapelain, the masked woman, and Lacuzon are by the residue, the “resonances” of our evolutionary and historical past.

Curses, the fairie, devil operas, and cycles of suicide are all ideas Stableford plays with before the gloomy conclusion in the forest of Brocéliande at the end. Transformation, sometimes of a very permanent kind, awaits many of the characters.

While this story isn’t as complicated as some of the previous books, it is obscure, deliberately so, in parts. Reynolds himself isn’t sure, ten years later, what happened at times.

But Dupin, contemplating events, guardedly offers a stoical and practical approach to life:

Whatever burdens we inherit from our past, in our blood and bones as well as in the echoes in our souls, we remain free agents—which leaves us room for hope, does it not?

Sally Startup provides the parallax on this one. 

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