No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

#52, #53, #54: The Magicians' Guild, The Novice, The High Lord -- Trudi Canavan

Canavan's characters redeem an otherwise formulaic fantasy trilogy. I don't especially like her protagonist, who is far too serious, worthy and virtuous for her own good (and doesn't ever seem to enjoy anything), but she faces and works out her moral dilemmas very credibly. I'd've liked more backstory for the villain, Akkarin, and more subplot for other major characters -- Canavan's motto seems to be 'tell, don't show', but she doesn't indulge in back-plotting enough!

I really, really wanted to edit her prose at times: there are repetitions (one word is OK, a favourite descriptive phrase is not); there's some very clunky phrasing; and she has a tendency to belabour the point. (Some of this may be deliberate: I wonder if these books were originally aimed at a YA market. They're published as adult fiction in the UK, though.)

The most annoying thing, though, is the way she assigns exotic new names to birds and animals that look strangely familiar -- the habit that someone (Damon Knight?) referred to as 'calling a rabbit a smeerp'. There are not-chickens, not-foxes, not-spiders, not-oxen and not-mice. (Don't have the books to hand, can't recall names.) Why not just use the familiar English name? None of these creatures have plot-relevant differences, as far as I can tell. And -- after keeping me guessing for ages about what creature would turn out to be drawing the carriages that everyone travels in -- she called them 'horses'.

I did like some of the characters (Ceryni, Dannyl, Rothen, Akkarin) and wish she'd concentrated on them rather than on the dull-but-worthy Sonea. And despite the aforementioned flaws, I kept turning the pages -- the pacing is excellent. Too many words, though, and not enough of the right ones.

reposted here from LJ in order to keep all my reviews in one place

Friday, June 03, 2005

#51: Billie Morgan -- Joolz Denby

Billie Morgan is a woman in her mid-forties, running a jewellery shop in Bradford and perpetually trying to accommodate her past. She's a working-class lass who's at odds with her family, a former biker chick, divorced, adores her godson Natty, tries her best to look after Natty's heroin-addict mother Jas, wears a lot of black. She's hounded by the Black Dog of depression.

Billie Morgan is a murderer.

I bought this book because on first glance I couldn't work out why it had been shortlisted for the Orange Prize. The writing is plain and vividly characterised: I have to read something else by the author now, to see just how different her style is when she's writing from a different point of view, because it's the sort of book that makes you feel you really are reading a diary: it's that intimate, that unfaltering.

From the very first page (and indeed the blurb) the fact that Billie's a murderer is foregrounded. That's not a secret: but there are secrets, equally terrible, that are only gradually revealed. The events that unfold -- not just in the past, in Billie's youth, but in the present day -- have the scale and resonance of Greek tragedy. Denby's writing, earthy and straightforward (if occasionally over-adjectival) pulls no punches.

Negative points? I'm never keen on writing that tries to transcribe the patterns of an accent: but at least she only does it in dialogue. And set against lines like "a grey-muzzled old dog fox, lithe and wick as a dusty russet flame", I'll forgive her.

The obligatory "this book is 'about'" line: it's about closure, about coping, about missing fathers and wicked mothers; it's about new perspectives on the past, and coming to terms with unpleasant truths.

I bet Billie Morgan would drive me up the wall in real life: but I liked her a lot in this book, and I'm very highly impressed with the novel.

reposted here from LJ in order to keep all my reviews in one place

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

#50: I Was a Teenage Fairy -- Francesca Lia Block

Bought this on the strength of the author's 'Weetzie Bat' books: not sure I like it as much, though it's a thought-provoking and empowering book.

The pubescent protagonist, Barbie Marks (yes, named for the doll), has an Imaginary Friend: but her imaginary friend, a minute fairy named Mab, doesn't think she's at all imaginary. She's a very American fairy, smart-talking and snappy and prone to providing therapy sessions. She is Barbie's only real friend.

In the first part of the book, that's more or less it. A few metaphors about imprisonment. A few about image. (Barbie is a child model, and her mother the epitome of rapacity.) Some refs to the Cottingsley fairy photographs; some refs to Peter Pan.

Fast-forward five years. Barbie's borderline anorexic: there's a Bad Thing in her past that she refuses to think about. Mab (who is as lewd and rude as Tinkerbell in the recent Peter Pan film) is still with her, and shares in a number of adventures -- some of them quite unsensationally (though erotically) described. (Being handbag-sized doesn't mean she doesn't appreciate pretty, sexually-ambiguous young men.)
But it's Barbie alone who reinvents herself, who triumphs over evil and frees herself from her past. And that liberates Mab too.

I nearly put this book down when I discovered from the blurb that the author was voted one of the coolest people in LA: but, as well as a clever, street-smart style (by now probably terribly dated - this was published in the 1990s), she has a gift for metaphors of a concrete sort. (LA as a reclining billboard model: the San Fernando Valley as her teenybopper sister.)

Some fine writing and some raw emotion. Shallow: but with depths. if that doesn't sound too utterly pretentious: this teen stuff is catching!

reposted here from LJ in order to keep all my reviews in one place