My audio book arrived Monday from Isis and so of course I immediately had to rip it to my computer, put it on my mp3 player, and start listening. And was immediately mesmerized and enthralled! That Sean Barrett is marvelous, the story, of course, compelling. And to hear the strains of “The Ballad of Aelwyn Breadwinner” come floating up from the abyss just gave me chills.
The next evening I listened to more chapters, and on file #7 got to hear a bit of “The Comb Song” during the part about Moira’s growing up years. Yes, a little of my fluting is evident!- really thrilled.
Then I came to the portion where Moira talks to Donald after the Duchess’ funeral, and she tells him ……….. WHAT SHE DID WITH THE COMB… and my jaw dropped and my drowsy eyes flew open… wait a minute, that wasn’t in the book! I went to find my 2011 MHB Press edition to find the text, and sure enough, there it was. But then I checked the old tattered 1996 Berkley US version I’d read 3 times, and it was not there. Had Phil put new things into the MHB version that came out a year ago? Mystery. Hurrah for Kindle search feature: I searched the word “comb” in the Kindle version of December to find a whole bunch of references to it that were not in my old paperback! Have to admit sort of freaking out- it totally changes the story for me. I don’t want to completely spoil the story for people who may still need to read December, but the ancient mystical hair comb given to Moira by her Gypsy mother figures greatly in the story after all. Moira did something macabre with it, is warned that she is unprotected without it, misses it in her guitar case, tells her band mates about it in the Abbey, and then on the last page…. well, you have to hear/read it. All missing from the Berkley edition.
So, I mentioned it on PRAS, and Anne and Phil explained that the US publisher, Berkley, wanted to shorten the story and so left certain stuff out, Phil recalling being told that it needed to be more “accessible” to people in Ohio!!! And then the publisher dumped him for being “too British.” OK, if you know me, you know I’m a librarian and very much against censorship. To me this was at best censorship and at the very worst a travesty to change an author’s book. But to leave out such an important part of the plot… it’s just a sin. Not to mention an insult to American readers.
Of all things to cut, that was not even one of the more disturbing bits in the book. I mean, Simon and the brown candles, the dinner party bloodbath, the ghosts … why leave out the comb? They weren’t trying to protect those Ohioans from any gritty sex or murder. And it was so deliberate- these clever editors had to search out tiny bits on far-flung pages. Go through it with a fine-tooth… never mind. There’s a lonely sentence where Moira walks along the frosty ground and the bristly grass makes her think of the comb, now where it is … sentence gone. On the last page where the comb makes one more plot twist in barely a sentence – they had to find that and cut it on purpose. Why the comb? Phil has added on PRAS that they may have left out the comb since they weren’t publishing Man in the Moss (due to Glasgow and Northern English accents) in which the comb story is retold, the song performed and the lyrics included, but again he says not the real reason, could embarrass someone yet. Being oblique as usual, the cheeky sod, -affectionately said.
So as I listen perhaps I’ll find more things that are new to me, things left out of the crappy US edition. Spread the word- DON’T read the butchered 1996 Berkley edition, or if you have, be sure to get hold of the original 1994 UK Macmillan, the 1995 paperback from Pan Books, the 2011 Mansion House or Kindle editions, or the new Isis audio book (on Audible, too) to get the unadulterated text of December. Sure wish I’d read the new MHB version when it came back in January- I assumed I knew the story well having read it three times. Then there was me writing a bleedin article about the book. I feel kind of duped.
In the US edition, “The Comb Song” is mentioned once, early on in describing Moira’s faded folk career. And that is the only mention of it or of a comb at all. I thought that Phil and Allan were stretching it a bit to include a song on the Abbey Tapes CD which features more heavily in The Man in the Moss, though I was glad they were. And while it is true that the song isn’t mentioned as being played at the Abbey, there’s a much stronger chance that it might have been, considering the comb’s importance to the book. Now that I know that, it is even more meaningful to me that I got to contribute a little to it.
Update as of Dec. 6, 2012- I finished listening to the audio book last night and it was marvelous! Scary and chilling and horrifying but satisfying and redemptive. I can pretty confidently say that the comb references were all that were new to me as a reader of only the butchered American Berkley Books edition. It remains a puzzle as to why that was omitted. It was a beautiful and I think essential part of the story. Anyone with ideas please comment.