Almost Everything Is Open to Interpretation in Quentin S. Crisp's 'Blue on Blue'

Blue on Blue is a delightful kaleidoscope of ponderings, musings, and mysteries.

Blue on Blue

Publisher: Snuggly
Length: 166 pages
Author: Quentin S. Crisp
Price: $14.00
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2015-12

Quentin S. Crisp’s Blue on Blue is a beautifully written book. This really isn’t debatable. Crisp plays with language -- at times making it lyrical and eloquent. At other times, there’s a sense of whimsy. With phrases like “a lemon-and-strawberry optimism” and “squidoodle extravaganza”, the word choice is noteworthy.

As the title suggests, Crisp does a lot with color. Blue is now the main character’s favorite (previously, it was green), and Crisp describes the multitudes of blue in the book’s first section: “As evening declines towards twilight, the soft blue air becomes as endlessly layered in its silence as steady rain. Blue on blue -- a veil of tears, then one of hope, then tears again, with the mystery of depth distilling of this a clarity that yet gives no indication of what might form the final veil.”

From here, the book becomes a delightful kaleidoscope of imagery, ponderings, musings, and mysteries. Here, perhaps, things become more subjective, more debatable. Almost everything is open to interpretation.

On the surface, the plot seems straightforward enough. The book’s main character and completely unreliable narrator is Victor Winton, a cartoonist looking for a muse for his new comic-strip series. Victor finds his inspiration in a self-proclaimed ordinary girl by the name of Jenny Mills. He meets her in a museum using the pickup line, “come here to sketch goddesses” and goes on to create a relatively successful comic.

Of course, just as nothing in the past is as simple as it seems, little in Blue on Blue is as simple as it seems. To begin, Victor is a citizen of ASAF, the Alternative States of the American Fifties. This acronym is explained in a brief footnote on the first page, which reads in part: “The Alternative States of the American Fifties is an artificial history zone ‘reclaimed’ from sunken parallel time, a sanctuary loop colonised by those who wished to reject certain ontological time switches by which the original American Fifties receded into the relative past of mainstream history.”

Another plot twist is quickly introduced: a scientist is seeking 100 volunteers to participate in a teleportation experiment. These volunteers would be the first humans to teleport from one location to another. Victor finds the advertisement in the paper: “Have you been waiting for a chance to prove yourself? Does this world feel too small for the great things you believe you can do? This could be your opportunity.” While Victor isn’t necessarily drawn in by these claims, he is intrigued with being memorialized, and circles the address to cement his interest.

Even the seemingly normal things are somewhat odd in Blue on Blue. Victor and Jenny become romantically involved and have several dates, including one to visit the Sea Monkey Kingdom. It’s not just that this is a world with a Sea Monkey Kingdom; it’s that Victor also takes the time to provide an aside to his readers about whether or not it is best to bring a bathing suit when visiting the Sea Monkey Kingdom.

Victor often waxes about various subjects from hand holding to arm taking. The newspaper he finds the teleportation advertisement in is a map of the world but not necessarily a good one. Of historical novels and their narrators, he says “I’ve noticed that in novels and such, events have far more historical accuracy than history itself. This is the omniscient narrator, of course.” Crisp also seems to be a fan of creative acronyms; in this world OMG doesn’t stand for Oh My God. These things can be taken at face value or scrutinized almost endlessly. It’s part of what makes reading Blue on Blue such fun.

Then there’s the section on the vagina. Victor has published his first comic series: Lara Strikes It Lucky. While working on the next installment, he decides he needs to answer the question ‘who is Lara’ before going further. He begins nude sketches, but more and more he concentrates “simply on the vagina, trying to get the subtle personality of the vagina just right, so that anyone would be able to recognise that this was Lara Lovelily’s vagina.” Victor notes that “with the vagina, I had to consider myself a blind man. I had to feel my way.”

Victor also seeks visual inspiration on his quest for the perfect vagina:

I began to pin various images and clippings intended to inspire and inform me in my new quest. Photographs of magnified snow-crystals and blood cells, of the undersides of cowries and other sea shells, the dewlaps of dugongs and mouthparts of manatees, the arms of starfish and the noses of bats, cobwebs in the moonlight -- yes -- and the diagrammatic illustrations of Ernst Haeckel.

It’s such a beautifully phrased passage that it’s almost forgivable to miss the reference to Haeckel, the 19th century scientist whose scientific illustrations are almost universally regarded as beautiful but are also considered by most to be inaccurate.

This is, in my opinion, another wonderful thing about Blue on Blue: it’s a good book to read more than once. Crisp is wonderful at sneaking in the little things, and even when reading carefully, it’s hard to appreciate all the nuances the first time around. It’s thin book, less than 175 pages, but Crisp doesn’t waste words and includes many lovely details and spots of humor (sarcasm?) that become more charming with each reading.

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