Short Stories Challenge – Medicine by Michel Faber from the collection The Apple: New Crimson Petal Stories

Published September 12, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s Medicine all about?:

Medicine is a short story which focuses on William Rackham, more specifically how far he has fallen since his days with heroine Sugar.

What did I think?:

With Medicine, once more we are taken down into the seedy Victorian world first created in the brilliant The Crimson Petal And The White. It is the turn of William Rackman, the major male character in the mentioned novel and my, how his life has changed! We meet him in one of his private rooms, taking pills for one of the many illnesses he appears to be afflicted with and travel with him on his ramblings and self-pity as he recalls better days. He seems to rail and curse at the woman he was most enamoured with years ago, no, not his wife Agnes, but a prostitute called Sugar who he let into his house and who he blames for everything that has happened as a result. First for the death of his poor, innocent and sweet wife Agnes who he feels he could have “rescued,” if it wasn’t for that bloody woman Sugar who ruined his life.

Williams has now taken a new wife, Constance and she appears to be a steady presence in his life even if the two hardly speak any longer and lead pretty much separate lives. He comforts himself that he should go and visit his lavender fields but no, all of that reminds him of Sugar and how they used to wander the fields when he was obsessed with her. Oh yes, and now his business has gone to ruin, that is also the fault of Sugar. He is feeling pretty much hard done by and has nothing to show for his years of slog in the manufacture of his soaps – shops are refusing to stock his goods while the paperwork and debts mount up. And then there is this blasted illness:

“William Rackham stares at the vista in dismay. If he summons a servant to clean up the mess, she will take one look at his desk, and another at his guilty face, and judge him to be no better than a helpless infant. But surely a man of his standing should not be cleaning up snot? And what should he use to clean it if he did? His handkerchief is white silk, and his desk is stained with ink, mottled with dusting-powder and, to be quite frank, a little mildewy on parts of the leather surface. His sleeve…Almighty God, is this a fair fate for a man who has already suffered a thousand humiliations? Wiping up snot with his sleeve?”

His new wife Constance has been unable to provide him with an heir to his business and that gets him thinking once again of the child he does have in the world (who disappeared with that harlot, Sugar) rendering him angry and very melancholy. A dizzy spell causes him to pass out for a while and hallucinate that Sugar is with him again, touching his face, ready to lead him once again into happiness but it is his loyal servant Letty who brings him round with a slap to his face reminding him once again of what he had, what he lost and what he has right now – burdens, anger and regret.

As I read Medicine I was instantly transported back into Faber’s world and enjoyed his exquisite prose and occasionally blunt manner of writing. Unfortunately, this wasn’t my favourite story in the collection but it was by no means the worst either. I enjoyed reading about the life of William Rackham after the events penned in the novel and I’m afraid that I didn’t really feel one iota of sympathy towards him. In a way, he came off worse in this short story than he did in The Crimson Petal And The White. William blames everyone else (especially Sugar) for the troubles he has suffered and his character moaned and whined so much that it was almost a relief when the story ended. Saying this, I am looking forward to the next story in the collection!

Would I recommend it?:

Probably.

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

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