Dates are getting seriously flexible at this point in the TBA readalong, as mentioned in the previous post. We’re covering several days all blurred together in today’s post, and the main reason it’s going up today and not on any of the other days included in it is that today is when I was able to get it up on time. The logic. It is impeccable. (You can tell I’m struggling a little to juggle PhD work, book 3 line edits, and this readalong, can’t you?)
Today’s post covers most of the period between the twenty-first and the twenty-eighth of October, in the space of roughly a page and a half somewhere in the middle of chapter 25.
Recovery is a slow bitch of a process, almost as agonising as falling apart.
This book has a lot of swearing in it, because Isabel has absolutely no compunctions about deploying the word fuck when it seems appropriate (and that is quite often, given how badly her life is going most of the time). It’s weird, then, that I sometimes find myself hesitating over a phrase. I know, for example, that some people are more uncomfortable with the word bitch than they are with much ‘stronger’ curses, because they see it as being gendered. This is why I almost exclusively use it for inanimate objects and abstract concepts – recovery, for example. It has a bite to it that I think suits Isabel’s mood, and the combination of pain and tedium that comes with recovery and prolonged pain.
Isabel is in quite a lot of pain at this point of the book, given that her heart stopped twice and effective CPR tends to involve breaking ribs – Daragh is deeply apologetic about that, which I find oddly charming – so she’s drifting, and that’s the main reason we’re skimming through a whole week within a few paragraphs.
As with all of these immediate post-antidote scenes, they belong largely to the sixth draft onwards, because before that, we still had wildly different things to be recovering from – one draft, for example, involved a lung transplant that got cut for implausibility (there was no way Isabel would have recovered that fully, that quickly). The sixth draft, though, was way less snappy than this one:
And so Isabel begins to get better.
It’s a slow, gradual process. She still wakes up every morning in pain, and sometimes the memories hit so suddenly that she lies paralysed until the gentle tickle of the oxygen tube in her nose soothes her into breathing by herself again. It takes several days more before she can stand – or at least, she assumes it’s several days, but time’s stopped meaning anything inside that room. She walks to the window, supported by an IV stand and Daragh’s arm, and it feels like running a marathon.
“And so Isabel begins to get better”??? BORING. Recovery is a slow bitch of a process is, I think you will agree, a much more evocative way of handling that line. The second paragraph may be almost identical to the one in the finished book, but without the voice and punch of the first line, it feels like I got bored halfway through writing the scene.
Even in the earlier drafts when there were more medical procedures later on, there was an antidote involved, and some recovery after that, so I dug out the fifth draft’s equivalent of this scene:
It takes more than a day for Comma’s best poisoners to mix an antidote from Isabel’s formula. She spends the next two days feeling like her body is being ripped apart from the inside, but when Daragh comes back with her blood test results, he’s smiling.
“You’re clean,” he says. “No more poison.”
“So why do I still feel like I’m dying?”
His smile fades. “It’s still a long road back to recovery,” he says. “You’ll need further surgeries, and at least one transplant. You can expect plenty more time in bed, and we’ll work on your recuperation slowly.”
“But the poison’s gone?”
“The poison’s gone,” he confirms. “It’ll take time, but you’re going to be okay.”
Okay. She doesn’t remember what that’s like. Her brain gives her pictures of okay: schoolbooks and tram rides, cooked breakfasts and worrying about rent, the sight of her parents’ front door closing behind her. They don’t equate to feelings. She feels numb and empty, as though the antidote flushed out her emotions as well as the poison.
She dozes, as weak from the ravages of the antidote as from the poison itself, until she hears Emma’s voice, and opens her eyes to see the other girl pushing her way into the room and asking questions of Daragh, a dozen a minute. Isabel can’t make out the words, but her stiff muscles pull her face into a tiny smile.
It’s not an exact match: the first half of this scene overlaps more closely with our previous post, in which Isabel first woke up after the antidote and asked Daragh what was going on. Here, that’s a far less exciting process, because my fifth draft self hadn’t quite figured out how to get super dramatic with the near-death experiences yet, and we go straight from there into thinking about recovery. We’re missing the actual recovery, though, the slow drag up from the brink of death – we go straight from here to the post I’ll be writing for the 29th.
Part of the increased emphasis on things like that – pain and illness and how slow and tedious the whole process can be – is due to my own increased personal experience of being unwell; part of it is a greater commitment to realistic timelines. Some readers don’t like it. They’re furious that my main character is ‘weak’ for so much of the book, that she just spends the whole time in pain, that she’s not ‘badass’ enough. I hope they’ve found other books they like better, because I wasn’t writing this one for them. For me, these moments are important.
The second half of that scene above is one that I thought had survived, in some form, but can’t find in the finished book. I suppose that makes sense. It worked only in the drafts when Emma was allowed into the hospital so that Isabel could see her and consider her a Symbol Of Okayness in person. We still get that idea – it occurs earlier, for example, when Grace calls her at the lab because she makes Isabel feel better – but maybe not as explicitly as this.
I’m a little sad that this has gone, even though I can’t see where I would have put it in this version of the book. But I suppose I don’t need to spell it out when it’s there in every conversation Isabel and Emma have. Emma is hope and normality and everything that escaping the guild symbolises for Isabel. Okay.
As the week goes on, Isabel’s recovery begins to look more like training, the guild slowly but surely pulling her back in. This is something that has been present in the drafts for a long time. In the fifth draft, when Emma was allowed into the hospital, she even witnessed some of this:
And the questions they ask, some while Emma’s still sitting in the corner of the room doing her homework, she knows what they mean too: why they ask which arteries cause the swiftest death if cut, which poisons are hardest to detect, which pressure points can fell a grown man in seconds. How to break bones with minimal force. How to use lack of strength as a weapon.
They’re training her.
It feels less like recuperation and more like being back in Cocoon, except with a heart monitor and oxygen tank by her side. Emma starts paying attention to Isabel’s answers, and by the end of the session her eyes are wide and horrified. Maybe this is the first time the truth of Isabel’s capabilities has sunk in.
She knows a thousand ways to kill people. She can’t trust her own memories, but she knows this.
We can see a lot of the echoes of this scene in the finished version, but this time Emma isn’t there to soften the scene, or to make Isabel feel less alone with it. Nor is she there to challenge Isabel on it:
“You don’t have to do this, Bel. You wanted to leave. Don’t give up now.”
What can she say – that leaving was less about Comma and more about her parents, and now that she knows the guild wasn’t responsible for what happened, she’s got no reason to hate them? That it’s pretty obvious from what she did to that burglar that she has no objection to killing, and what’s more, that she’s good at it?
She can’t even remember if Emma knows about Ian, but she knows her friend won’t want to hear that. She’s still pretending Isabel’s capable of being normal if given the chance, like she’s not broken on some fundamental level.
Daragh says, “These tests are part of your recovery. The long-term effects…”
“Don’t bullshit me,” says Isabel, cutting him off. “I know you’re training me. I just don’t care.”
“You should care,” says Emma, standing. “You should want more from life than murder.” And she leaves the room.
A lot of this tension now comes a little later, and over the phone, rather than in person. But Daragh is far more conflicted than his fifth draft counterpart, and far less likely to bullshit Isabel about anything – something we’ll be talking about on the twenty-ninth, when we finish up this chapter.
I don’t quite know how I managed to get a post this long out of literally a page, but that’s fine, makes up for how short yesterday’s post was. Please, as always, leave all your questions, thoughts and reactions in the comments!