One day, on a summer’s afternoon, a young Oxonian mathematical lecturer and his friend were taking some of the children of the Dean (his boss) out for a rowing trip on the Isis. To pass the time, the mathematician, Charles Dodgson, began to tell a rather silly story to the kids about a fantastical adventure that might happen to them – or, at least, to his favourite of them, young Alice. But Dodgson had a rather hyperactive mind – he was so constantly inventing things, from an electoral system (Dodgson’s Method) to a steering mechanism for a tricycle, to a device for making it easier to read books sideways, to a double-sided adhesive, to a forerunner of Scrabble, that one of the things he felt the need to invent was a cipher system to make it easier to write down inventions in the middle of the night without having to light a lamp. With that sort of mind, perhaps it’s no surprise that his mind may have wandered from the narrative task at hand – and so, little echoes of his day-job perhaps filtered through in the heat haze over the river, making his story unusually odd.
Reading a novel often throws up half-random symmetries between the reader’s mind and the text of the novel – echoes, intuitions, memories, premonitions. The reader has a thought, and lo and behold the same thought is suddenly seen in the text itself. Sometimes this is pleasing – proof that the writer is thinking along the same lines, and to the same depth, as the reader, and hence that the investment of thought on the part of the reader is not in vain. Other times it is frustrating – a sign that the writer is following a path too obvious, too familiar.
In the case of Before They Are Hanged, it is… odd.