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

Sunday, February 05, 2006

#10: Living Next-Door to the God of Love -- Justina Robson

I finished this novel yesterday and I'm still struggling to assimilate it. There's so much in here -- a convoluted plot, a thriving and evolving multiverse, hormones and dopamines, genre staples (vampires, cyborgs, dragons, comic-book heroes) harnessed as metaphor, teenaged lust, fairy-tale imagery, and a love story or two, or three -- that I find myself quite overwhelmed. I'm longing to go back and reread in one or two sessions, with an eye for the details I missed, because Robson's worlds -- and especially her characters -- are so beguiling that I want to understand every nuance.

There's some truly stunning writing in here, the kind that has me reading sentences aloud to an empty room because I want to register my admiration. There's one truly stomach-churning scene, which reminded me -- not in content, but in impact -- of Banks' Use of Weapons: there are switches from exotic locations to Cornwall in the 1980s that almost derail the reader with their sheer contrast. There's language so intense that it reminds me not of other prose writers, but of poets such as Eliot and Pound.

I haven't seen reviews of this novel yet (and don't want to, because I'll be writing one) but I'd bet that one of the criticisms levelled at it will be that it's self-indulgent. Another one might be that it's to eclectic: that it drags in too many elements, and reads in places like a catalogue of sfnal tropes. (I don't agree with either of these criticisms, by the way: but I can see how the sheer joie de vivre of the novel might be taken for a lack of control on the author's part.)

One thing that Living Next-Door to the God Of Love achieves is the exploration of some hoary cyberpunk issues (intelligence and its interaction with the body; conflicting data models of the universe; what happens when the machines don't obey) via characters who are as real, as engaging, as flawed as any I've encountered on the printed page.

Perhaps once I've read it again, I'll be able to summarise it.

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