Saturday, October 3, 2009

september reading, part 1

Two parts to this batch of books. I'm feeling talkative.

The Children's Book
by: A. S. Byatt

When it comes to Byatt, I'm torn. I hated Possession, found it dusty and dully irritating, though I probably read it when I was too young to let it get a grip on my imagination. The Little Black Book of Stories thrilled me, but in that infectious, chilling way where something lodges in your imagination and lingers despite any attempts to not think about it. There's a streak of cruelty through Byatt's work that disturbs me and fascinates me at the same time.

I read The Children's Book for work. I wouldn't usually volunteer to read a 700 page ARC, but I was curious. The novel is, in part, about stories and storytelling. It's about people who hurt each other, mostly from selfishness and claustrophobic self absorption, rather than focussed malice. It's also about England just before the first World War, and how that particular world crumbled and was lost. It's an epic, and I don't usually read epics because I find it difficult to care about characters when there is a legion of them I have to remember. Byatt throws in pages and pages of historical ballast, and sometimes I felt like I was getting a history lesson instead of reading a story, but her characters managed to latch onto my imagination through all the padding, and I couldn't stop reading.

There are fragments of fairy tales in there, stories within the story, that made me wish I could read the fictional book that contained the rest of them. I think that, in another life, Byatt could have been a stunning, creepily effective writer of doorstop fantasy novels.

It's lovely, old-fashioned writing, with a Narrator who feeds you the world and who knows more than you or anyone else. It bogs down in places, but that cruelty is in there to prick and shock.

The Ask and the Answer

by: Patrick Ness

I was madly obsessed with The Knife of Never Letting Go, so I was practically counting the days down until this came out (my hints to the kid's department at work being woefully ineffective in producing an ARC). I still think that Ness is a genius when it comes to the breathless, galloping pace of these books. I don't know how he manages it. Even when the story happens in an enclosed space, it feels like its rushing at high speed across vast distances.

I didn't like this one as much as the first one though, and I think it's because the story has less of the collisions and astonishment that comes from running away into an entirely unfamiliar world. I still want to know what happens next, and I still love the characters, but there's less of that desperate shine of strangeness that was so thrilling in the first book.

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