E.R. Eddison – A Fish Dinner In Memison

One of the most peculiar titles to a fantasy novel must be A Fish Dinner in Memison (1940) by E.R. Eddison. It is the second novel in the so-called Zimiamvia Trilogy, although Eddison did not really write it as a sequel but more of a standalone side-story to the first novel. As I haven’t read the first novel yet I have no idea about the implications. Most people would probably read the first novel first so I expect I will have a different perspective reading it in reversed order.

This is no easy novel to read. This is foremostly caused by Eddison’s prose. He uses a very lyrical and almost free style which reminded me a little of some of the works of James Joyce. Eddison writes to gain a certain effect but in reality I had trouble getting through the complexe sentence structures which did not follow the usual English. I should add that he does not use the style all the time.

There are actually two stories: one takes places in our own world and one in a different one. The earthly story is more readable as it uses more regular English. These two storylines do form a certain pair. There are certain similarities and some contrasts in the events portrayed. The main similarities are formed by the great amount of philosophy and references that describe scenes or are part of dialogues. Eddison shows off his erudite knowledge which in a way is annoying as it requires an equally knowledgeable person to fully appreciate what he is using. As I am not much into philosophy much of it was lost to me. So actually large parts of the novel simply went by on me. I simply did not grasp the greater meaning and Eddison did not make it clear to understand as well because of his difficult style of prose.

So what remained were the non-philosophical parts. There is not much of a plot. The titular dinner forms the philosophical centerpiece of the novel. As I only partially understood the whole idea it was a bit lost to me. Besides the dinner there are a few dramatic and non-dramatic events that are only partially connected. It was here that I wondered if having read the first novel would have helped me here, even though Eddison himself said one should not really need to have done so. I expect to receive the first book soon, so I will be able to find out then if it matters.

The characters in the novel are clearly familiar to Eddison. They have already been fleshed out so Eddison does not waste time to present them. One will thus have to experience them and that he does quite well despite the many philosophical dialogues. We might not really spend serious time with them in their “normal” behavior so one can say this is a positive note.

So my main conclusion on this novel is that it is unusual and peculiar. It has a concept that I haven’t encountered before. It contains great richnesses if one knows how to appreciate them. If you don’t the novel will keep one puzzled. Satisfaction will also be absent. Can I make a final judgment here? I don’t know. As it is part of a trilogy reading the other novels could change my opinion and perhaps I would want to read this novel again to understand it better. Such can be the risks of starting with the second novel of a trilogy.

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