'The Gracekeepers' Sets Damplings Against The Landlockers
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
It is sometime in the future, and water has enveloped most of the world's land mass. All that's left are small islands and their inhabitants who are called landlockers. Those not lucky enough to live on dry land live at sea on boats. These so-called damplings scrape together a living selling whatever they can. The crew of the Excalibur sell entertainment. They are a circus troupe, a dysfunctional family of sorts, full of secrets that have the potential to sink them all. That's the tale told by Kirsty Logan in her new debut novel. It is called "The Gracekeepers." She joins us from Edinburgh, Scotland. Thanks so much for being with us.
KIRSTY LOGAN: Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: So I want to start by asking you to read a bit from the beginning of the book that just kind of gives us a sense of this band of performers, this circus troupe.
LOGAN: (Reading) After that night's performance, the crew of the Excalibur felt the storm finally stirring to life. They felled their big top, soothed their animals, weighed anchor, all under a sky bruised dark with clouds. As the sun set, it lit the clouds from below, making them round and bright as fruit. They drank up, slept it off and moved forwards onto the next island. What choice did they have? Landlockers are not sympathetic to the problems of the sea and circus folk would rather take their chances with the petulant waves.
MARTIN: It's such a vivid description. How did these performers end up together?
LOGAN: Well, in the world of the grace keepers, people are generally born onto the boats that they work on. So North, who is our main character, she's a bear girl. She dances with a bear. And she is the child of two bear performers who also danced with a bear. So you're kind of born into this life.
MARTIN: Can you give us a snapshot of the other performers? So we've got North, the bear girl. Who else is on this strange boat?
LOGAN: We have Jarrow, who is our ringmaster. All of the crew nickname him Red Gold because he plasters all this glitter on his face and irritates his skin and makes it break apart. And so all the glitter kind of goes into his blood, and so he plasters on more and more glitter to cover it. So he's always got this kind of inflamed glittery face. And we have annual Avalon, who is the ringmaster's wife, and she is the villain of the piece. And we also have the three clowns...
MARTIN: The clowns.
LOGAN: ...Cash (ph), Dosh (ph) and Do (ph) - I love the clowns. (Laughter).
MARTIN: The clowns, I mean.
LOGAN: They are some sinister figures.
MARTIN: They are creepy.
LOGAN: I know. I know. And then the last of the crew of 13 are the glamours. And they are these very sensual performers. And they also do all the hair and makeup and kind of styling on the circus as well.
MARTIN: So describe - we alluded to it in the introduction, but describe the dynamic between the landlockers, the people of the land, and the damplings, the people who have been relegated to a life at sea.
LOGAN: Well, there's a lot of conflict between them. There are all these kind of binary conflicts in the book between genders, between sexualities, between ways of being and places of being. And it really all boils down to this conflict between the landlockers in the damplings. So the landlockers who live on land - generally they inherit that land whereas the damplings are constantly on the move so that we have all different types of boats providing all different services. And they have to travel constantly between the different islands and, you know, either perform or provide a service or trade whatever they have.
MARTIN: Some of the circus performers have - their performances have this very explicit sexual tone to them. Some of the acts play with the idea of gender and androgyny. Two of the main characters in the book are pregnant which is interesting. How did all of that feed the narrative for you?
LOGAN: Well, certainly that's, to me, the kind of underlying current - no pun intended there - of the book is this moving beyond a binary. So you know, we have all these different binaries, and then I hope that as we move through the book both of the main characters and, to some extent, I hope the reader is beginning to see how we can live a life outside these two binaries. We don't necessarily have to choose male or female, gay or straight, land or sea, adventure or staying still. You know, we can find a way to combine these things and choose a third way, a fourth, fifth, sixth way. You know, you can make your own path, your own way of identity, your own way of being. And to me, that's just what I really wanted to explore with this.
MARTIN: There is another unspoken character, I guess, in this book that exists in that nether space between binaries, between the land and the sea. And that's - this is a little bit of a spoiler, but I'm going to say it anyway - that's this idea of a mermaid or a merman or person of the sea. Has that long inhabited your imagination, mermaids?
LOGAN: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I love fairy tales and folk tales, particularly Scottish folk tales. And lots and lots of Scottish folk tales are about the sea and creatures from the sea. So we have myths of selkies, which are creatures that can transform from seals into people and back again. And they're usually these beautiful men or women when they transform into humans. And then, of course, lots of myths of mermaids. To me, a mermaid was a great idea of how you could explore this third way because they do cross between the land and the sea. So I quite like that. It might seem quite an obvious way to explore gender, but it really did appeal to me.
MARTIN: The book is called "The Gracekeepers." It's written by Kirsty Logan. She joined us on the line from Edinburgh, Scotland. Thanks so much for talking with us, Kirsty.
LOGAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.