posted by Sari
So I got the flu just before Christmas and Jukka got the ear thing, so we have been mostly not doing anything the whole Christmas except feeling grouchy, watching LotR and reading:
As Devoted Souls is a YA novel about online gaming and romantic entanglements I most decidedly was not in any target group imaginable. For starters, I am not a young adult and I positively hate games where you have to interact with other characters, NPC:s and player characters alike. (Myst and Civilization, the best games ever). I picked it up half accidentally mainly because I know the authors, Jukka was hogging the computer and it was there, on top of one of our endless piles of books. And I was really pleasantly surprised. The prose flowed, I really liked Nelli and really wanted to know what happens next. The gaming sequences worked much better than I had expected, and the interaction between and within Nelli’s two worlds had interesting levels. Me being me, would have wanted the novel to be more ambitious than it was, I think the story and the themes would have supported a more literary effort. But that would have been a very different book to perhaps a different audience.
Evelyn Waugh: Vile Bodies
Vile Bodies was Waugh’s second novel, a satire about the post-war generation and the Bright Young Things set to which Waugh himself belonged, so it is difficult not to read some of the satire as a sort of roman à clef. The book is dedicated to Diana and Bryan Guinnes, Adam’s efforts to popularise green bowler hats is like hoax art show Diana, Bryan and Waugh staged in 1929. Lottie the eccentric hotel owner is modeled after Rosa Lewis (fictionalised later in BBC’s Duchess of the Duke Street), Nina owes something to Diana, and Agatha Runcible to Elizabeth Ponsomby. The on-off relationship between Nina and Adam seems tinged with the break up of the marriage between He-Evelyn and She-Evelyn. It is wickedly funny and at the same time sad novel, a novel without a centre, much like the party-set generation it depicts. And quite chillingly, for a novel published in 1930, it ends with a war.
Lois McMasters Bujold: Sharing Knife
Though I think only one of Bujold’s romantic fantasies has any of the power of her best Vorkosigan books, these are still well worth reading. Shearing Kinfe duology has wonderful rhythm to its language, excellent world-building and intriguing fantastic elements, but in the end it is an interesting take of a mixed marriage (Dag and Fawn are from different societies and cultures, and their marriage is much frowned upon by their families and societies), and though Bujold’s characters are tough and determined, it will not end with rainbows and puppies.
David Mitchell: Cloud Atlas
Cloud Atlas is an "overwhelming masterpiece," according to the Washington Times. "Never less than enthralling," announces The Wall Street Journal. The New York Times Book Review proclaims author David Mitchell, "a genius." But don’t let the blurbs put you off. These are not hype so much as loss for words. I think George Gessert is right there. Cloud Atlas robs the words to describe it and you are left with an empty hyperbole. I loved it to bits. There are novels where style, structure, themes and characters are so happily married that they trigger a sort of cascade reaction in the brain. All the myriad things inputted from the novel collide somewhere and release a reading of such power that it becomes a pleasure, an emotional reaction to intellectual achievement. These are the best books, those that, like Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge, blow your mind and break your heart at the same time. Tom Stoppard can do that. A.S. Byatt and Pat Barker can do that. Neal Stephenson in his madly ambitious baroque cycle grasps at that.
And so does
David Mitchell. Cloud Atlas has a story within story structure, but all the
stories except the last/middle one is cut off in mid-point only to be continued
later: A diary of an American traveller in the Pacific during the 19th-century,
letters written by an opportunistic young composer after the first world war, a
detective story in a fictive American city in 1950s, a vanity publisher’s
escape from old people’s home in modern Britain, the interrogation protocols for
an android revolutionary in future Korea and annihilation of a culture in
post-apoclyptic Hawaii through the eyes of a young boy. The stories are
intriguing in themselves and the changes of style are handled with assured
virtuosity of a master wordsmith.
But what really makes the book for me is the mirror-house/Russian dolls structure: the stories are set within stories in such a way that it makes the narratives fiction within a fiction. But you don’t know that in the beginning, as we start from the innermost doll and work in halves towards the outermost doll. If the earlier narratives are just mentioned in the later narratives, what is their relationship with each other? Are they part of those stories or are they just referring to those stories, outside or inside? If one approaches the structure thinking about fabulation/mimesis, the relationship of fictive work to what it referrers (or not), it really leaves you buzzing.