Friday, March 19, 2010

a retraction (kind of)

I panned 'The Slap' in my last blog post, having not finished it, but now that I have I feel I may have been a little unfair. In the last few chapters of the book I came to care about the characters, I feel a lot of the threads pulled together, and the hopeful notes toward the end redeemed what would otherwise have been a very bleak book. It ended on a good note, with a sense of satisfaction as well as a tantalising glimpse toward the future. As I theorised back in my early adolescence, a bleak story should always end on a hopeful note. That was my formula, and I was reminded of it here.

But I do not feel I can really be entirely positive about this book. I mean it took me until the last few chapters to feel anything much other than annoyance to the characters, to feel that I understood them at all, and to actually enjoy this book. Sure, a good ending is a good thing to pull off, but if you don't enjoy the rest of the book then there is still a problem there.

I think the way the book was structured was something of a double-edged sword. Each chapter moved the story forward but was written from a different perspective. This let you get a different perspective on the characters and events, but it also created something of a distance, in that it didn't give you much time to get to know each character. Overall I think it was an effective technique, but it contributed something to my annoyance through the beginning of the book (as well as reading through the perspective of some of the more annoying characters). In the end it contributed to a feeling of well-rounded-ness as everything came together, or past events seemed to click. But as I said, is pulling it together at the end enough?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

books i didn't like becoming movies i probably won't like either

I was surprised to learn the other day that 'The Elegance of the Hedgehog' was being made into a movie, and slightly less surprised to find out that 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' was too. The surprise came with a certain feeling of frustration- why these books? Although this was tempered by the thought that perhaps an adaptation of a book you don't like is likely to be less frustrating than an adaptation of one you do.

I'm saying right now that I have no intention of ever watching 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo'- it was violent on the page, on the screen that will surely be unbearable. I've said something on this blog about it already, and while it was quite a page-turner I was glad to put it down.

'The Elegance of the Hedgehog' is a different kettle of fish (well, it is a totally different book), and something I haven't already addressed here. It's a much more gentle books, really about the inner lives of a middle-aged Parisian concierge and a 12 year old Parisian girl. I don't know if I was just in a rather irritable mood at the time, but it grated on me. I wanted to like the characters, but I found it hard, because of their calculated superiority, and the way they felt that the world cheated them, while really they were imposing limits on themselves. It made it hard to listen to their thoughts and philosophising, because at base I thought they were wrong. I may have been a bit harsh on them, and by the end I had warmed to them somewhat- motivations were explained, lessons were learned. But in a book with so little plot it seems a bit tough to leave all the exposition to the end. I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it, and I wonder what kind of movie they will make of it. 

'The Slap' is looking like being the latest on my list of 'books I don't like all that much', but I haven't finished it yet... I thought none of the characters were at all sympathetic, but there have been a couple of moments which are ok. So far it is pretty much a pattern of sex, infidelity, swearing, drugs and marital strife, and that is becoming dull. If there is one thing that's probably unfashionable but I really like, it's a sympathetic character, and there are a shortage of those. You can make a cheating, swearing, drug-taking character sympathetic, I mean I'm not saying that I can't like a book with these elements, but if none of the characters are likeable I just want to throw the book on the ground and never pick it up again. Because I just don't care what any of them do.

Monday, March 08, 2010

alot of words about kate griffin

"I’m not a huge fan of didactic writing – I’ve always been of the opinion that the story should be put first, and any profound moral messages should emerge as a result of the story, rather than as a thing imposed on the narrative as prime purpose."

- Kate Griffin

Yes yes yes! At least in the majority of cases, yes.

In other news, I just finished reading 'A Madness of Angels' by Kate Griffin, and I really enjoyed it. It's a story that grabs you at the beginning and you keep reading to find out a) what has happened and b) what is going to happen. At first I had some reserves about this book, while I was enjoying the read I wasn't sure if the writing was great, what the themes were, I needed time to stop and think about them. Well, the book wouldn't let me stop, and I couldn't really address these concerns, but somehow by the end I had decided that it was good. So with my critical faculties thus disabled I am unable to be anything but glowingly positive about it.

I recall that when I read 'Neverwhere' by Neil Gaiman I was left somewhat underwhelmed. The ideas were great, I enjoyed the world he created, the way that the fantasy world intersected with real-life London, but somehow it felt a little thin. I felt like I only had glimpses, and as I recall the characters and plot also left me disappointed as well. My verdict was something like 'great idea, poorly executed'. Well 'A Madness of Angels' works on a similar idea, creating the magical underbelly of London, but in my opinion it works better. The world feels real, the concept of magic makes sense, and the whole thing feels fully realised without the reader having to be taken on a stilted guided tour.

I make a comparison here because that is the first thing I thought of when I read the book, and I think Kate Griffin has been influenced by Gaiman and Pratchett, or at least by that shared fantasy tradition. Not to say I think she is derivative, somehow fantasy seems to evolve these different groups of shared assumptions, and I like that, if you have read a lot of fantasy it makes it very easy to get your bearings, as it were. So I might add, the system of magic used by sorcerers reminds me of nothing so much as that used by Prince Mendanbar in Patricia C. Wrede's 'Searching for Dragons'.

Before I get too bogged down in digressions, let me move on. The story starts at the beginning but in the middle, in a sense, with the resurrection of the main character, and his first thoughts are along the lines of "runrunrunrun", so the pace is pretty fast, and as the main character is running for his life he doesn't have a lot of time to stop and explain things. But you want to find out. The main character, Matthew Swift, is something of an anti-hero (maybe not quite, maybe more ambiguous), and I spent some time wondering how far I could trust him. Which maybe contributed to me be unsure what to make of the book. It was interesting spending time in his head, and he was likeable enough (eventually, anyway), and while I could have personally done with some more major supporting characters that was not really in keeping with the story. To do credit to the characterisation though, I did feel like a number of minor characters could have stepped into a larger supporting role.

It's a fairly violent book, although nothing too graphic, it is an 'action' book. Things are always happening, and there's not much time for reflection. Although there is room for thought.

In short, if you like urban fantasy, ambiguous heroes, London, magic worlds or action, you should check it out. I might try to get some fantasy haters to read it, I think it's the kind of book that might change their mind.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

signposts of enmore

I like the area I like in, I like its little quirks, its personality. The walk home from the bus stop often uncovers interesting things. Yesterday someone had posted to a telegraph pole a poster, with those little tear off things at the bottom and a picture of a firefighter against smoke at the top, and the poster said this:

I exist!
Conform, consume, sit down, watch t.v., shut up and obey? No thanks.
Somehow, anyhow, let it be know that
[and on tiny tear off pieces of paper below]

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

nonsense words


The insomnious glare of the streetlights
censured me, at 2am
on the footpath, kissing you.
But we could forget,
because we were young
and in love
and besides
we were very drunk.


Into the moon garden
you and I fell.
I forgot which face
was yours
in the milky light
one of us lay down
and laughed at the sky.