A blood moon over Melbourne, July 2018 (Photo: William West/AFP via Getty Images)

Bad bitch energy: An essay on Eleanor Catton, Edward Cullen and Covid-19

Edward Cullen became a vampire to survive the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. Now a new Twilight novel looms and Laura Surynt, a New Zealander living in the UK, wants to live forever too. 

As I lay in bed this morning watching Instagram stories, Tayi Tibble told my reluctant little Capricorn heart that 

Caps are bossy … 

Caps are fun af … 

Capricorns are so stylish, so chic.

Capricorns have bad bitch energy.

When I was 15 it was the height of The Twilight Saga saga. I was the best literary bitch that influenced her entire school to read Twilight. I carried those huge ass books around like I was the mf queen and made girls fight to be next in line to borrow them. Rolling my eyes at anyone who refused to read them – 

New Moon / Twilight / Eclipse / Breaking Dawn

And now in Midnight Sun Edward Cullen’s gonna come back and tell us all how to survive a pandemic.

Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen, 2008. The upcoming novel Midnight Sun is Twilight told from Edward’s perspective. (Photo: Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

Trained in obstetrics, my dad delivered me, a fact I lord over my siblings, but I don’t dare ask him what time I was born, so my co-star app is inaccurate. Now I get notifications that say

Emptiness is the same as clarity

Try not to talk shit today

Experiment with telepathy

                                                         what, like a vampire?

Since Twilight, the only other book I flaunted with the same energy was The Luminaries. I carried that tome around the Auckland Uni city campus the week before it won the Man Booker as if it was the bible and I was some prophet. I looked into the eyes of strangers and said, it’s going to win, like I knew. I saw it in the stars.

🔮

Hokitika’s a bit like Forks – with its dark damp forest and mist for miles. The sparkle of gold in the river, veins in the rocks, against the sparkle of a hot vampire, white and cold as stone. He has no veins at all.

goldrush/coldrush 

Two years ago, on a road trip around Iceland, Sufjan Stevens’ ‘Fourth of July’ was playing through the rental car’s speakers (shall we look at the moon, my little loon?). It was 11pm and the sun was still out, red against the road of volcanic rock – a midnight sun. The song crescendoed to the final refrain and I yelled ALL TOGETHER NOW. Everyone else in the car sat in absolute silence while I chanted

We’re all gonna die –

We’re all gonna die –

We’re all gonna die –

We’re all gonna die –

We’re all gonna die –

We’re all gonna die –

We’re all gonna die –

Ha. 

The midnight sun in Iceland (Photo: Supplied)

Today, despite the deaths of 32,313 people, the UK government announced it would be easing lockdown. We can go to the park now. Sunbathe. Go swimming. Soon we’ll be able to go to the pub, and the gym.

We’re all gonna die.

I decided to reread The Luminaries ahead of the TV series, and to distract myself from the sense of impending doom that comes with living through a global pandemic.

There was nowhere to take it, no one to congratulate my intellectual heavy lifting. But that moon girl kept me company for days on end. I stayed up late reading and slept through mornings because time means nothing rn.

🌕

🌖

🌗

🌘

On this reread I didn’t have to keep all the pieces aloft, spinning in my head, I already knew them. Instead they hovered, waiting for their turn of the page – chapters dwindling as the moon does. An astrological feat, with each character associated with a sign of the zodiac, a planetary body, or the luminaries – our moon and sun, Catton weaves a constellation of narratives that span the course of a calendar year, each part harking back to the part before it, and looking ahead, to a future that’s yet to unfurl: “onward rolls the outer sphere – the boundless present, which contains the bounded past”. And this present is boundless, isn’t it? I could read and reread The Luminaries, all 832 pages of it, and still time would spool into nothing. In lockdown, time’s not a line to be marked, but a hollow space in this hollow moment that we like to pause in and call the present. 

(Images: Supplied)

SUN IN PISCES (part 3, page 531, The Luminaries)

What was glimpsed in Aquarius – what was envisioned, believed in, prophesied, predicted, doubted, and forewarned – is made, in Pisces, manifest. Those solitary visions that, but a month ago, belonged only to the dreamer, will now acquire the form and substance of the real. We were of our own making, and we shall be our own end.

And after Pisces? Out of the womb, the bloody birth. We do not follow: we cannot cross from last to first. Aries will not admit a collective point of view, and Taurus will not relinquish the subjective. Gemini’s code is an exclusive one. Cancer seeks a source, Leo, a purpose, and Virgo, a design; but these are projects undertaken singly. Only in the zodiac’s second act will we begin to show ourselves: in Libra, as a notion, in Scorpio, as a quality, and in Sagittarius, as a voice. In Capricorn we will gain memory, and in Aquarius, vision; it is only in Pisces, the last and oldest of the zodiacal signs, that we acquire a kind of selfhood, something whole. But the doubled fish of Pisces, that mirrored womb of self and self-awareness, is an ourobouros of mind – both the will of fate, and the fated will – and the house of self-undoing is a prison built by prisoners, airless, door-less, and mortared from within.

These alterations come upon us irrevocably, as the hands of the clock-face come upon the hour.

Like Catton’s luminaries, we’re bound to the planets, the stars, and the celestial mechanisms … but bound too to our histories and privileges afforded by birth and wealth. Lockdown began in Pisces, the last of the signs, and I’m writing this in Aries, the first. Will we take this new beginning, the “bloody birth” and weave it into something new? Will we tip the Libra scales to make a better world?

Where’s that Aries anger for our fucked-up world? 

♈ ♉ ♊ ♋ ♌ ♍ ♎ ♏ ♐ ♑ ♒ ♓

While a novel of intrigue, suspicion, wealth and romance, it’s also a novel of theft as gold changes hands, a glimmer quietly watched by the 12 central figures and those who look on – orbiting a girl and a pile of gold. But theft of a larger kind permeates the novel, as early in the first chapter Te Rau Tauwhare recalls land stolen from Poutini Ngāi Tahu “who once commanded the entire western coast of the South Island” and laments the “wealth his people ought to have commanded”.

It was no joke when Taiki Waititi told the BAFTA audience he’ll be taking the “gold back home where it belongs”. 

Over Facetime mum and I talked about how they’ll adapt it for TV, ha do you think they’ll keep the structure of the book? I joked. Each episode half the length of the one before? … until the last one is only a minute? 

I can’t pretend to understand all the astrological references in The Luminaries, but I do know that Tayi Tibble and Eleanor Catton are both Libras. Us Libras – Tayi says on Instagram – we’re mostly adored, but some people hate us.

Tall poppy syndrome n shit.

Stephenie Meyer’s a Capricorn. Grab that cash you Cap.

Eve Hewson and Himesh Patel as Anna and Emery in The Luminaries (Photo: TVNZ)

There’s this scene in The Luminaries, a scene that’s spiralled back to again and again of Anna and Emery – the novel’s sun and moon – who don’t know one another yet. They’re standing on the deck of a ship at dawn, that “solitary hour”, seeing for the first time the unknowable coast of Aotearoa, but they don’t call it that, of course. They watch an albatross eddy and glide in the early wind, a symbol of hope for a new life they so desperately long for. I log onto DOC’s Pukekura albatross cam and see the nest silhouetted against the rising Otago sun. So fucking cheesy I know, but I can’t help it. I’m in bed and have been all day, but it’s evening here; pulled from this hemisphere into the south and into the future, the sun’s squares below the window have faded, and Venus is out, clear and bright against the dark blue sky.

I met Eleanor Catton once, only a few months ago at an event in a bougie room with bougie wine. She spoke of her new book that was about billionaire survivalists who buy up property in Queenstown to wait out the apocalypse.

Well shit.

Cycling around Cambridge, UK (Photo: Supplied)

Talking to her after, she asked why I was in Cambridge. My partner’s doing a PhD here, I said. Me too, she replied, we’re the same! I nodded cynically but didn’t fight her on it. Instead I asked how the filming was – great, she said, we filmed near Piha during New Zealand’s hottest, driest summer. But because of the cicadas so much footage was unusable. They were so loud, you couldn’t hear anything else. I laughed and thought about the time my brother collected hundreds of cicada shells and hid them in my sister’s bed, folding the top sheet neatly over those honey gold exoskeletons. I didn’t tell her that story. Instead I went home and emailed my brother who was quarantined at his girlfriend’s house in China:

do you remember when we would take the griffins sampler up to motorua after christmas and over a few days it would slowly diminish until only the shortbread and krispies were left? and that we couldn’t go to the bottom layer until they were all finished? and the chocolate ones melted and fused in the heat and all the stale crumbs would mix until it was dust and wafer with lost hundreds and thousands? and then we’d swim – swim out to the sandbank or wharf and pull mussels off and then come home and have them barbecued hot with garlic butter and fresh bread. remember when you collected all the cicada shells from the trees and put them in leah’s bed? or when you asked me to spin you into a cocoon in mum’s striped hammock and we snapped it and got into big trouble. remember when you thought you could swim out to that boat but couldn’t and i had to drag you back onto the sandy beach? remember when you would hide behind every tree on our walks across the island and scare us as we turned each corner? every time. remember when we didn’t get the toilet paper calculation right so dad rationed us to pee in the sea or one square per poo? remember running out onto the wharf to collect the supplies and all the tourists took photos of the sandy half naked children who were fizzing about the parcel of toilet paper and cheese? remember the dark deep green of the bamboo forest and the deafening hum of the cicadas? remember the freshwater trout in the streams? remember the stingrays and the dolphins and the pōhutukawa at the end of the beach? remember the gold of arrival and the night dad woke us up to swim in the phosphorescence? that luminous blue that clung to our skin and made us feel alive and wild and a little bit scared. remember slipping back into bed with salty skin and waking up to a day of doing it all over again? 

That was before everyone started to die here. 

Students of Quileute Tribal School at La Push, Washington, 2011 (Photo: The Olympian/Tribune News Service/Getty Images)

In Poūkahangatus, Tayi Tibble writes about Twilight too, about brown boys being fetishised by white girls and making “yourself sick with lusting/All you want is that pale sparkling”. Tibble’s Vampires versus Werewolves uses the refrain “Could you be more specific?” to push the poet into explaining the life of Twilight teens. It’s a poem of dampness and intrusion, so confidently exploring the insecurity of adolescence, and noting that even then she’s subjected to the colonial bullshit of Yt beauty standards and natives being forced onto reservations. Don’t forget Stephenie Meyer’s werewolves are Quileute – warped appropriations of Washington’s actual Quileute Tribe who live at the other edge of our Pacific Ocean.

They used to own miles of that Pacific coast. Now they don’t even own their own narratives … grab that cash you Cap.

Yesterday on my state-sanctioned daily exercise I biked past Eleanor Catton. I didn’t realise who it was until I had already turned the corner. When I stopped at the lights and looked back, I couldn’t see her, but hanging low in the sky was the growing glowing moon, waxing gibbous, almost full.

And tonight, the wolves will be out with the full moon. Teeth bared and two metres apart. 

We’re all gonna die.



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