**spoiler alert** One book, two rapes. How's that for a bargain? (The book only advertises one.) Yuck.
The book in question is Alice Sebold's The Lovel**spoiler alert** One book, two rapes. How's that for a bargain? (The book only advertises one.) Yuck.
The book in question is Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones. I'm not giving anything away by saying it's a book about a girl (the narrator) who was murdered. That's revealed in the book's second sentence. It's also not a big deal to let you know she was raped and murdered by a neighbour, George Harvey. That all is related pretty early on. What isn't revealed until maybe the last fifty pages is that the girl herself, Susie Salmon, becomes a rapist.
Ideologically, I'm not certain which one is worse. I could be persuaded.
But the way the book presents the two incidents is markedly different. One is revealed in low lights and has a horror edge to it. It's seen unilaterally as an evil, wicked deed. The other is the book's highlight, the moment at which the author breathes a sigh of relief and says that everything else made right. I suppose it makes sense; the narrator probably wouldn't see her actions for what they were. But in the end, both George and Susie deal with their childhood victimizations in that manner typical to the criminal genre these days.
Both George and Susie had horrible things happen in their formative years that leave long-lasting scars. The only difference is that George Harvey lived and Susie Salmon died. Not that it makes much difference. Susie is as alive a character as George for the purposes of the story. They both want what they want and care little for the well-being of the women who get in their way. The difference is that George Harvey is portrayed as the villain he is, while little Susie Salmon is treated as a hero.
Those who have read the book may not have even noticed Susie's complete abandonment of moral sense or care for the woman she violates. After all, she doesn't exactly couch things in those terms. So here it is, laid out for you.
When Susie was alive, there was a boy who liked her, Ray. In the years after her death, Ray grows up to be, in the narrator's view, an attractive young man. She watches him and loves him. Somehow, events conspire to allow Susie to possess the body of Ruth, a friend of Ray's. Susie uses the opportunity to seduce Ray and they make love several times in the course of a few hours. And then Susie has to go back to heaven. Leaving Ruth, a victim of Susie's power over her body.
Imagine that you're Ruth. You wake up. Naked. Probably a little tender. Used. In the back of some bike shop. With a man in the shower. That's what I call horror. Not only was she not conscious or aware for any of the immediately preceding events, but the guy who's been really her only friend in the world is now naked and telling her that he screwed her brains out while she was unconscious. And even if he doesn't tell her that, there's a very short rail of evidence and it all points to that conclusion. And now. She could be pregnant. She could be diseased.
Yep. The crowning act of love on the part of the tale's heroine is little more than a petty, rapacious act of power over the helpless woman who got in her way. Good job Susie Salmon. You and George Harvey should get along nicely.
p.s. even though I called it a spoiler, I think that Alice Sebold spoiled the book. Not me....more
I'm always excited when I run across a novel that is, so far as I can tell, essentially perfect. Never Let Me Go is one of those. There is not a singlI'm always excited when I run across a novel that is, so far as I can tell, essentially perfect. Never Let Me Go is one of those. There is not a single thing wrong with this book. Ishiguro is a master craftsman and it shows here.
The novel's characterizations are pitch perfect. Its narrative flow reveals things in exactly the right order. Mystery is preserved until it no longer matters and then, under the light of revelation, we discover the mystery was never the thing that mattered. Ishiguro plays with the reader as he unfolds his exploration of what it means to live—but never does so unfairly or at the expense of his characters' right to dignity and reality (a right that he very much does grant his characters).
Never Let Me Go is narrated from nearly a decade before its publication. As Kathy quietly reminisces from her vantage in the late 1990s, she gradually comes to explore a life fraught with meaning and purpose—and fraught simultaneously with that kind of superlative meaninglessness that Ecclesiastes bemoans in all of its somber weariness. Kathy is a caregiver to recuperating donors and relates her special pleasure in the few instances in which she had been able to offer care to those who had been students at the exclusive (and, as it turns out, much envied) Hailsham, where she herself grew up. Memories of Hailsham water a fertile delta of memories through which we gradually come to understand both Kathy and the world she has inherited—a world filled both with much light and much darkness.
In other words, a world much like mine or yours. Still, Kathy's story is unique and it is in her own tale's peculiarities that our own is better revealed. Better explored.
Some may be tempted to see Never Let Me Go as ethical question and admonishment to this generation of readers and to the one that follows us. Certainly, that is there, but only as mise-en-scène to the larger panorama of a woman's quest to discern her past, present, and future from a glut of memories (some of which are only mostly trustworthy or even trusted) and how that journey sheds light on questions more important than mere ethical concerns. In Never Let Me Go, Ishiguro continues to play as he has in past works with memory and perception and how memory is so often the primary defense against perspicacity, yet as his narrator is acutely aware of her own remolding of history through nostalgia and forgetfulness, we are assured that perspicuity is not his target here.
No. I believe Never Let Me Go is much more a perfectly plotted meditation (and its style is itself quite meditative) on the human condition, the place of our own hands in shaping our destinies, and what it means to live. These could all be clichéd topics but Ishiguro approaches with such a vaguely detached sublimity that he breathes (through Kathy his narrator) a certain verdant spirit into these things. They are never treated as anything more than mundane, but it is precisely by that treatment that he gives his purpose such power and impact....more
Craig Thompson, for all the lack of works in his bibliography, is one of the best creators working in comics today. Apart from Blankets, he has only rCraig Thompson, for all the lack of works in his bibliography, is one of the best creators working in comics today. Apart from Blankets, he has only released one other major work of fiction. (His third, Habibi, will be released this Fall.)
[The cutest of meet-cutes.]
There are any number of reasons that Thompson's work should be lauded. His art is gorgeous and his brushline expressive. He treats personal topics with a sense of both whimsy and honesty. He writes true experiences, even when they're fictional. And as great as all those things are, there is one idea that stands out in his work that I've yet to see another creator tackle (let alone master) as Thompson has done.
His sense of the sacred and his ability to convey it in ink is breathtaking. He offers his readers these holy moments, these frozen, fluid, organic treasures. These sacramentals. Whether he intends to lead the reader into a religious experience or not, his work really is very spiritual. As spiritual as an atheistic holy experience can actually be at any rate. There may be moments in Miyazaki that approach the wonder of the sanctuaries that Thompson builds in Blankets. It's for this reason (among others) that Thompson's second book remains one of my favourites, even years after having first encountered it.
The sweetly disturbing sentimental journey that was seeded years earlier in Thompson's Goodbye Chunky Rice finds pregnant fruit in his nearly-600-page opus, Blankets. Semi-autobiographically chronicling (via chrono-thematic structuring) his early life—from his establishment in faith and his discovery of love to his abandonment of that love and his subsequent abandonment of faith—Thompson plays honestly at all times with his story elements, thereby lending his tale an uncanny credibility. And while flashbacks and tangents proliferate, the overarching chiastic structure verifies the reader's intuition that Thompson knows well where he is headed and is going to take you there whether you like it or not.
[Kinda want to punch this lady right in the breadbox.]
Thompson's illustrated avatar acts, at all times, with striking realism and the chaos of his thoughts is entirely believable—if not exactly illustrative of the average meditative development. The Thompson that frets and plays in Blankets—we'll call him Craig— is highly introspective and acts often in the heat of his youthful emotional turmoil, rather than from a simple, sensible motivation. And though one may often wish to chastise him for such sillinesses, his youthful passion and pendular over-reactions will more than likely endear Craig to readers as they recognize more than a little of themselves in him.
This book is a masterpiece of form, symbol, and structure. Tokens bend and writhe and carry narrative significance throughout. Thompson's art here is fluid and is of that less-polished variety found also in Goodbye Chunky Rice and serves well to establish the variety of moods described in his several vignettes.
From the perspective of one who grew up both in a faith-community that was friendlier to the arts and in a home whose high standards weren't as strictly enforced, I found his story particularly compelling and tragic. Surrounded by hypocrisy and a weak-kneed, moralistic fundamentalism, the source of his disillusionment is not difficult to see. Perhaps Blankets' greatest quality is the empathy it exerts from the reader. I pitied and cared for Craig. I felt the same for his brother, his parents. I mourned for Raina, Craig's love interest in the book. I grew despondent for her family. More than anything, I wanted to hug each of these characters and make it all right and sensible again.
[Man, how brutal to be Thompson's parents, years later to read this panel and think: "Oh crap. I did that to a child? I wanted to surprise him and all he could think about was whether he had sinned? And not even whether he was in trouble but whether he had sinned?"]
And the whole while, my anger kindled toward an institutionalization of faith whose expression was not compassion, not mercy, not love. That Craig lived in a locale whose cutural acumen was bent toward a fear and persecution of that which skewed from the status quo is a horror that can be understood (while still remaining a horror). That his subculture should behave identically, built on a foundation of fear when it ought to be built on joy, peace, and love is terrifying. Thompson's work engaged in me a fury for a people and place with which I have no experience. They may not even exist as he portrayed them, but at the least, it is a challenge for me to not hate these characters who actively tear down Craig's life even from a young age. And as someone who actively tries not to hate anyone, consider this a testament to the veracity with which Thompson draws out Craig's life and circumstance.
Blankets is an evocative work that should not be missed by any who would appreciate a serious, heartfelt, and magical telling of the tragedy and wonder of what it means to come of age.
Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is actually probably the best novel I've read in a long time. Granted, many of the novels I've read over the lasMurakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is actually probably the best novel I've read in a long time. Granted, many of the novels I've read over the last two years have not been spectacular. There was The Lovely Bones. And then The Ass and the Angel. And then His Dark Materials. And others, none of which I would recommend spending any time with.
Wind-Up Bird on the other hand was worth every moment spent burning through its 610 pages. It was mysterious, absorbing, and informative. Murakami writes in a form and style that makes the act of reading as simple as consuming a volume of Harry Potter. His prose is neither dense nor confusing. It's not his words that propose depth but his ideas.
On top of engaging philosophies of death and identity and epistemology, Murakami couches his world here in a system of reality far more encompassing than our own. His is both reality and meta-reality and the boundary between both permeable and malleable. Things from the realm of mystery make themselves known in the realm of the normal. And contrawise. A wound taken in a dreamworld manifests itself in the waking world and a weapon carried in the waking is available in the dream.
So then is there really any difference? And if so, then does such a difference matter.
At heart, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle seems to be an exploration of fate, of destinies unbidden and prophecies unalterable. Murakami's flaccid protagonist, Toru Okada, moves from passivity to activity as he struggles either to engage his destiny or bend fate to his own need (which one, which one?). There are so many aspects to the story that move characters around outside of their own willpower that Fate clearly has the upper hand, but still, it's fun to watch the struggle.
The story begins when Okada's cat goes missing and his wife Kumiko asks him to find it. Or maybe it begins earlier, when Kumiko gets pregnant. Or maybe it begins still earlier when Kumiko's sister dies. Or earlier still, during the years leading up to WWII. Whatever the case, everything is connected through gossamer tendrils of fate and pain and anguish and collective identity.
And then there's the wind-up bird, the unseen bird whose cry sounds like a spring being wound—the bird who winds up the world, a stand-in for fate who propels things and people to and fro, loosing and staunching the flow of life and the stream of reality.
This was the second book of Murakami's I have indulged—the first was [book:Kafka on the Shore, a number of years ago—and I can't wait to read it again. Wind-Up Bird is actually far more easily understood that Kafka and despite the same presence of such a magical reality, the story elements more easily combine to paint a sensible landscape. Still, Wind-Up Bird leaves plenty robed in mystery and will give readers a feast of afterthoughts (I spent my lunch break scouring the internet for critique—to little avail, alas!). The dialogue is crisp and occasionally crackles, especially where the Kasahara character is at play.
I have only one thing to say in criticism of the book. In a climactic chapter, the protagonist explains everything (to some extent) to the reader and another character. I felt ripped off by this, as if the author couldn't trust me to be engaged enough to piece things out on my own, though my conclusion had been identical. (Though from reading some of the Amazon reviews from people who still didn't get it, I suppose it was necessary after all.) Unless we're not meant to trust Okada's interpretation... Okada certainly has his own doubts, but it didn't seem to me that Murakami was trying to capitalize on the whole untrustworthy narrator bit—he seems more interested in more interesting matters.
In any case, awesome book. High recommendations for everyone except stuffy evangelicals ^_^...more
I am the luckiest person in the world. The last few months have led me through an unbroken string of good books. I have had so much fun reading that II am the luckiest person in the world. The last few months have led me through an unbroken string of good books. I have had so much fun reading that I'm just in love with books right now.
And isn't that the way it should be?
In any case, Salinger's Franny and Zooey is the most recent in what I hope will be a continuing tradition of engaging, well-written stories. I have to admit I approached the work with some skepticism, having been wholly uninterested in Catcher in the Rye when it was forced upon me in high school (and now, I am looking forward to going back and reading Catcher).
It's really in the dialogue that Franny and Zooey shines. I found their discussions completely absorbing and their subject-matter intriguing. Even the correspondences represented in the work are fun and filled with the kind of silly banter that reminds me of my own letters to my wife before she was my wife.
As far as story goes, it really is pretty slight and primarily relies on four distinct conversations over the course of a few days in which Franny has a sort of spiritual nervous breakdown. I found the whole thing—the breakdown, the conversations, the conclusions—all to be uncomfortably believable in that I could easily imagine such a set of things occurring somewhere in real life.
To conclude, Franny and Zooey is a short book that can be swallowed at breakneck speeds. It would be worth seven times the amount of time I spent on it....more
I'll begin with my finale, so those who don't want to take the time to read several paragraphs will get the gist of it upfront: Elizabeth Strout strikI'll begin with my finale, so those who don't want to take the time to read several paragraphs will get the gist of it upfront: Elizabeth Strout strikes me as being an Alice Munro cover band. And with that, my review.
Really, my problem in reviewing Strout's collection of short stories is that I didn't hate it or love it. I didn't even like it or dislike it. I'm not in any sense ambivalent toward it. Save for the fact that I'm baffled by its Pulitzer status (and the other fact that I wasted countless minutes actually reading the thing), I'd say that I couldn't be bothered to care about Olive Kitteridge one way or another.
So I'm having a hard time mustering emotion enough to make you care about the book one way or other. Instead, I'll just talk about some things I know.
I know that Olive Kitteridge is not well-written. It's not awful stuff and is mostly competent, but it's certainly not good. Strout falls into familiar patterns of withholding information in enough of her stories that one comes to expect it. The kind of thing where she'll open with "After Event X, nothing was ever the same again" and then keep the reader in the dark over what the event actually was, only revealing the nature of the event pages past the point at which anyone could continue to care. She deposits point-blank iterations of Chekov's gun in stories—in one case, it's actually a gun too—telegraphing story intention with painful clarity. She does that thing that's common in comic books where a character in the midst of some unbelievably implausible circumstance remarks (with a figurative nudge-and-wink) that the circumstance is unbelievably implausible and were it not really happening, people would be certain it was the product of bad fiction. (Only she's not writing a comic book. And it's cliched and unfunny even in comics.) And she reintroduces Olive and her circumstance with tedious frequency. I realize that several of these stories were written years ago, but some editing for flow would have been awesome.
On the other hand, I know that Olive Kitteridge develops its characters generally pretty well. Especially its secondary characters, the ones who inhabit the book for only the space of a chapter or less. Those are the ones to whom Strout breathes life. Suicidal Kevin, jilted Julie, infidelitous Harmon. These are the people I wished the book would have continued with. Strout builds them into characters of interest and one wonders how they might recover from their stories.
I also know that if the state of Maine has the means and opportunity, they should ban Strout from entry or residency. Strout paints a picture of Maine that makes it perhaps the least likely target for any of my future vacationing plans. And I certainly wouldn't ever choose to live there if the author's portrait is in anyway accurate. Essentially, if Olive Kitteridge is to be believed, the state is built out of a) crazy and b) infidelity. I think perhaps it was only the final chapter that was free of the stuff. It got to the point where I'd begin a new chapter and sigh audibly a couple pages in and then explain to my wife that I was reading another chapter about another person whose quietly (or even not so quietly) insane.
I know that I did appreciate Strout's empathy for the aged. She brings to mind several of the difficulties and problematic philosophies of life that those of advanced age may surely feel if they are a) crazy or b) miserable. Reading Olive Kitteridge brought me forcefully to the conclusion that should I grow old, I honestly will beg with my mind to be forged of neither of these two (apparently common in Maine) characteristics. This is also a book that will be popular Christmas gifts from elderly parents to their grown-and-moved children, because nothing says Christmas Spirit like 270 pages of paperback guilt trip.
I also know that had this book not been assigned reading, I would have put it down after maybe the fourth chapter and probably never gotten around to finishing it. It wasn't so much that it was bad as it was just plain not that compelling a read. I never cared for the story of the title character and knowing that the side characters wouldn't be returning left me nowhere to hang my hat. And there isn't really anything going on in the book beyond the surface elements of the very-disjointed story, so Strout really needed to make Olive's character and story sing.
And it just didn't.
And this brings me to the final thing I know and that I've already kind of given away from the start. I know that I feel like Elizabeth Strout is an Alice Munro cover band. She's probably alright if you're a fan of the real deal but for some reason can't get the real deal. Like you wanted to hear the Scorpions play "Rock Me Like a Hurricane" but you're on a party boat and all you've got is Scrantonicity II to play Scorpions hits. It might scratch your itch or it might not. Of course, for those who were never big fans of the Scorpions, you'll probably be up on deck for the entire set.
That's me. I wish I had been up on deck reading some Paul Auster or Murakami or, heck, even some A.A. Milne while Olive Kitteridge played to the drunken several on the deck below....more
The problem with The Shadow of the Wind is that it tricked me into believing it was a great book by being so freaking fun. It is only now, after a monThe problem with The Shadow of the Wind is that it tricked me into believing it was a great book by being so freaking fun. It is only now, after a month or so has passed since my reading, that I realize that No, The Shadow of the Wind was not a great book.
But it was freaking fun.
Seriously. Despite the pretty good writing, the largely stereotyped characters, the cliched plot development, and the soap-operatic twists and revelations, The Shadow of the Wind was a very fun ride. Despite the fact that there exists little real substance in the novel beyond some interesting discussion of the nature of reading and writing, The Shadow of the Wind kept me excited and always intrigued. Despite the fact that none of it could be as good as its opening chapter, The Shadow of the Wind had me jumping for opportunities to read more of it. Despite the fact that even now many of the plot points are fading from memory, The Shadow of the Wind never flagged in interest. (Okay, it did once. for about six pages.)
The Shadow of the Wind may not be a great book, but it is certainly a good book. And really, who doesn't want to read good books?
Zafón's interest in mid-twentieth century Spain paints a picture of a world I'll never get to experience through any means other than novels. It reminds me of Cinema Paradiso (both in its love affair with a medium and its portrayal of European life a couple generations past). As well, like Cinema Paradiso, Zafón's book is thoroughly romantic (in its multiple senses). He trysts with love in ways that the formulizers of Hollywood romances should distill and bottle—for the betterment of their own product.
But where Zafón really excels here is in producing a fun read. It's his twists and turns of plot and device that do it. The characters help (especially Fermin), but The Shadow of the Wind is really all and entirely about What Will Happen Next. It's possibly the book that most summer reading aspires to be. It's fun and light without being stupid. The Shadow of the Wind doesn't leave the reader feeling as if she has just overdosed on a far-too-sweet dessert. There's enough substance to fill one up and leave one off with a feeling of satisfaction and of time well spent.
And who doesn't want a feeling like that after having a grand time pursuing mysteries in 1950s' Spain? Nobody, that's who....more
I had the vaguely unique opportunity to approach MacGuire's most famous work without any immediate familiarity with his source material. I had neitherI had the vaguely unique opportunity to approach MacGuire's most famous work without any immediate familiarity with his source material. I had neither read L. Baum's original work nor seen the Judy Garland vehicle. Certainly, some of the Oz mythos has filtered down into society at large over the years and I am broadly aware of some of the stories more famous bits.
I knew of the yellow brick road—upon which I presumed the entire tale took place. I knew of the ruby slippers, though little more than that such shoes were extant. I knew that Dorothy arrived in a house that crushed a witch and have in mind the image of two spindly legs clothed in candy-cane-striped socks emerged from beneath its deadly weight. I knew of a quest for a heart, a brain, and some other thing. Perhaps a spleen. I knew that the villain melted and suspected it was due to some sort of molecular aquaphobia. And I knew that one ought pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.
Oh. And that flying monkeys apparently played some role.
With that in mind, I can say that MacGuire crafts a tale that takes a path down a road that with few exceptions is easy enough for even an Oz Neophyte to follow without getting lost. I did occasionally wonder what happened to seemingly significant characters with whom the narrative seemed to grow weary and decided to abandon outright, never to be seen again. Case file: the Scarecrow and the Woodsman. Both seem to carry some narrative force and even feature prominently in the prologue. But Macguire leaves them apart and away from Dorothy and Elphaba near the climax and never returns to them or their presumed plight. I was not quite sure of their function in the story then save perhaps because lore required their presence.
But other wise, yes. Wicked carves a narrative path that is simple enough for even a newcomer to follow. Unfortunately, the path—which began in earnest and promised great sights and breathtaking vistas—becomes dull and plodding and any number of things that a desirable trek would hope to avoid.
Plainly then? Wicked loses steam in its first third and never regains its spirit. It becomes, in a word, boring.
I was engaged-if-perplexed in the first section, in which we are introduced to the infant Elphaba and her deleteriously bankrupt family. I was excited throughout her college years as she first learns to relate (or attempts to do so) with classmates and experiences tastes of the wider world of ideas and ideals. This second section of MacGuire's journey is easily his strongest work here and he creates a likable, mischievous cast with which Elphaba might parry and riposte. He hints at great things to come and struggles for which Elphaba and her friends have only just begun to take up arms.
Unfortunately, it all falls apart immediately upon Elphaba's abandonment of her education.
Not only does Elphie cease to develop in constructive ways, but her story becomes a shambles, never gaining the traction required to make the reader care. Oh, there are moments that hint of the things that could have been—the elephant queen, Liir's involvement with the great fish, Nor's experience of flight. Alas, these all remain as undeveloped and unevolved as the philosophical content at which the novel toys (the level of thoughtfulness is comparable to what one might find in a dormroom in which five college sophomores launch into outspoken dissertations on the nature of our reality fueled only by second-rate marijuana and a subconscious desire to feel important).
MacGuire's Wicked is, in the final reckoning, deeply unsatisfying. Which is really too bad as the book is as long as a Harry Potter tome—only minus the fun....more
While not the worst book I've every had the displeasure of reading*, Nick Cave's work here may be the worst that I've both read and finished. Eragon?While not the worst book I've every had the displeasure of reading*, Nick Cave's work here may be the worst that I've both read and finished. Eragon? Gave up with extreme prejudice. Da Vinci Code? Accidentally left it in an airport bathroom in Denver with eleven pages left and did not care enough to visit the library to see how it ended. The Lovely Bones? Granted, I did finish it and it was bad, but it was a shiny, gold-plated sliver of heaven compared to And the Ass Saw the Angel, which I was unfortunately compelled to finish.
Ah, the joy of being in a book club.
The first thing one will notice in Cave's book is that the principal narrator is dense with a lugubrious sort of prose made up in striking part by words that won't be found in any dictionary (as they are made up). So dense, in fact, is the narration that it stifles to the point of petrification. The author himself describes the language as, "kind of a hyper-poetic thought-speak, not meant to be spoken - a mongrel language that was part-Biblical, part-Deep South dialect, part-gutter slang, at times obscenely reverent and at others reverently obscene." Cave forces the reader to invest a lot of work into deciphering a story that is far too slight to merit the effort. And I hate him for that.
Well, not really. But maybe.
In any case, with the exception of the first and last chapters, the entire tale is told in flashback by a single narrator, named Eucrid, using two different voices (one fantastical and the other only slightly more grounded in reality). Eucrid Euchrow, dying from the start, tells the tales of the divine vengeance he wreaked upon the odd religious community in his isolated Southern town and how he now dies with his glorious work complete. What is not at all clear until the last third is whether we should believe any of it. Euchrid, a mute from birth, is the product of mentally disabled man and a woman whose only nourishment is the moonshine she stills in their yard. He is, to be plain, quite insane.
If Cave would have either held personal restraint or kept an editor worth more than the cost of a community college education, And the Ass Saw the Angel would have clocked in at novella-length of slightly more than a hundred pages - and would, by that measure, have made a terse, quirky, intriguing look at madness. Instead, Cave shows no wisdom of this kind and remorselessly fills over three hundred pages with a sprawling, cacophonous garble of madness. We cannot even say that he explores Euchrid's madness for there is neither consideration nor reflection. Only revelry.
There were moments when I thought I might have a good (if offbeat) book in my hands. Moments of interpretive joy when it could be realized that things might not be as they seem. Pieces of prose that made me think that Cave really did know what he was doing, such as his description of a particular woman as a "xylocephalic ogress." But such rays of warm and happy light were always and inevitably to be short-lived, as Cave would draw the reader, nails scrabbling for some hold on light and sanity and good reading, inexorably back into his drearilous swampfief of monotonating garballations.
Not, by any means, recommended. I read somewhere that Cave himself doesn't even think the book is any good. This would have been good to know three months ago when I started reading this tripe.
*NOTE: I really have no justification to say that it isn't beside the fact that I'm being generous....more
The chief tragedy in reviewing David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas is that readers are not going to want to know how well Mitchell explores the central tenetThe chief tragedy in reviewing David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas is that readers are not going to want to know how well Mitchell explores the central tenets of his text but, as the author himself asks through a surrogate character, whether the book's central conceit comes off as gimmick or inspiration. Why this is tragedy is because while the book is very good and Mitchell's ability to leap from character to character and style to style with little reservation and less hesitation shows a remarkable gift, there will be readers whose primary interest (or lack of such) will revolve about what we may consider Mitchell's gimmick.
Here's the thing about gimmicks (and we'll get this out of the way as quickly as possible so that we can get to the meat of the matter, Mitchell's novel): everything about a book—every book—is a gimmick. Its plot, its structure, its choice of characters, its vocabulary and style and prose and use of device. All of it. It's all just a gimmick to get you, the reader, to forget your self-consciousness for long enough to consider an author's creative product. It's all just the means an author will use to trick you into engaging in his purpose for the duration of the book's page count.
And when we describe a book as gimmicky, all we're saying is this: I didn't like the book.
And part of that may be due to an author's inability to sustain whatever gimmicks, whatever bag of tricks the author has chosen to employ. Or part of it may just be that some people don't like to be aware of the fact that there is a structural foundation, an erector set's worth of girders, an abandoned wharf's collection of pilings, a ramshackle assortment of concrete and rebar and wood and wires, glass, ducts, canals, service elevators, and furniture—all lurking just off-camera. Or in Cloud Atlas' case, not so far off camera.
So was Cloud Atlas gimmicky?
Well, because I very much enjoyed the book: no, it was not gimmicky in the least. An exercise in formalism and experimentation to be sure, but no, not gimmicky.
Mitchell uses in Cloud Atlas a chiastic structure to develop themes of liberty and determinism, savagery and civility, and a critique of the Ecclesiatical cliché that there is nothing new under the sun. Using six thinly connected stories told through six different mediums in six different time periods spanning hundreds of years, Mitchell explores the seemingly innate savagery of humanity (and especially of civilized humanity). In the end, Mitchell provides few clues as to how one might conquer this orientation—though he does suggest in a testimony from a dystopian future that any orientation may be overcome (prompting suggestions of education and standing on the shoulders of those who have come before).
In any case, his topics are worthy, his characters indelible, his method of conveyance sound, and his ability to handle a pen unquestionable. Some stories will be better received than others and each reader will find those that ring most true in the inner ear of their own conscience. Regardless, Cloud Atlas is an ambitious work whose form and experiment, though potentially distracting to the distractable reader, is entirely necessary (I believe) to the story he tells. Without his particular ordo apocalypsis, Mitchell's novel would lose the strength of its ability to convict as well as its ability to offer what hope it can (however slim). An excellent work and one worth any reader's time and attention. ___________________________________________
Note on Kindle edition. Filled with hundreds of typos. Hundreds. Perhaps over a thousand. I easily lost track. Many spaces dumped so words run together. Words that were apparently hyphenated for line breaks in the printed edition are hyphenated in the Kindle edition even when in the middle of a line. Makes for atrocious reading. My advice: even if you prefer to read on a Kindle, pull out the printed edition for this book in particular. It suffers greatly in digital. ...more
Stained honour, dented ego, As we bury up our dead. Smiles can last for miles ________________
I had betterTo begin with, a poorly-devised haiku review:
Stained honour, dented ego, As we bury up our dead. Smiles can last for miles ________________
I had better get on my horse and start writing my own novels because Steve Toltz has been a-thieving from my brain stock. Both of A Fraction of the Whole's protagonists, Martin and Jasper, throw off a continuous stream of ideas and summations of the human experience that my friends are probably pretty tired of hearing spouted from my own mouth. From their ranting about loyalty to dirt to the motivation for humans to be invested in sports outcomes, from the human desire to witness the fall of others to pinning motivations on God, from the flimsy veneer of most philosophical arguments to the fate of the rebels' children, from the hypocrisy in "I don't want to take up any more of your time" to the impossibility that democracy should succeed.
Essentially Toltz' characters here are rabid cynics and I suspect that Toltz may be as well for him to be able to write so adeptly the perspective. Because really, apart from the sanity issues, it felt like Toltz was writing me—and I have pride enough to imagine that the mere neophyte cynic couldn't begin to do justice to the mindset.
A Fraction of the Whole is the improbably probable story of Jasper and Martin Dean. As told by Jasper (son). And on occasion by Martin (father). Posthumously, in Martin's case. And using Jasper as proxy. It's kind of one of those How I Got Here stories, beginning with Martin dead and Jasper in a riot-prone detention center.
And I never knew where it was going to go next.
The tale is fraught with heartache and tragedy but as told from the unique vantage of the entrenched cynic, even misery and woe is made comic. Someone would die horribly and one sentence later I would be chuckling. A favourite character's dreams would be shattered for all time and even in the midst of their evident grief, I would catch myself grinning like an idiot. It stands testament to Toltz' powers as a writer that he can so ironically manipulate the emotions of the reader. Quite opposite of the typically sappy Hollywood-brand of contrivances, A Fraction of the Whole might rather be considered a tear-stauncher, leaving the jerkers for lesser fare.
In any case, I very much enjoyed my time in his work and would likely read future efforts as well. Although to be fair, I may be biased because he might as well be me....more
Recognizing beforehand that this wouldn't be a complete story arc, I had to try to approach the book without any prejudice toward it for having a weakRecognizing beforehand that this wouldn't be a complete story arc, I had to try to approach the book without any prejudice toward it for having a weak ending (i.e., no ending). Unfinished books can be interesting to read to view the storytelling process in the midst of its evolution, but are rarely satisfying as stories in their own right. Némirovsky's work here is perhaps more polished than a simple draft, but even her notes suggest that the finished chapters and two volumes that *were* published are not likely how they would appear in her final product.
So then, what about what we are given?
It's, well, pretty good. It's not riveting by any means. There is no climax to her first act ("Storm in June") and her second act plays out pretty softly (appropriately enough for a section entitled "Dolce"). While each segment picks up interest in later chapters, both start off at such a slowburn that many readers won't make it past a hundred pages. Character-wise, Némirovsky doesn't provide the reader with many sympathetic characters either. Not only are almost all the inhabitants of her story arrogant hypocrites, but they are almost universally uninteresting as well.
The first book is a pile of vignettes describing the circumstances of several families and individuals as they flee Paris on the eve of its fall into German hands on 14 June 1940. The narrative is as disorganized and haphazard, perhaps, as was the exodus it chronicles. There are flourishes of course and moments of interest (notably a chapter written from the perspective of a cat in heat), but on the whole it functions better as documentary than as story. The second book is easily superior, but much slower paced. There are more sympathetic characters and much more time for introspection. In a way, book two ("Dolce") could function as some sort of Jane Austen work, only with Nazis and crap.
Back to characters. Reading, Suite Française, I first thought that Némirovsky was an out-and-out misanthrope, despising all humanity, no matter its form or station. Gradually, I came to see that there is a certain class of person whom Némirovsky bears little ill will and seems to believe at least capable of being both genuine and rational. Those people seem to fit in the lower middle class and be young enough to still see beauty in the world (the Michaud couple are only in their early forties or so, and are an exception to the youthfulness qualification). Her sympathetic characters are the Michauds, Jean-Marie Michaud, Lucile, the young engaged couple fleeing from Paris on their wedding day, Bruno (the German soldier staying with Lucille's family), Madeleine (to some extent), and Hubert (after he rejects the hypocrisy and privilege of his class).
I should note I really did appreciate Némirovsky's ability to describe the hypocrisies of her characters through the various perspectives of her other characters. This actually makes it a little more difficult to pin down the author's own feelings toward others.
I'd be curious to read Némirovsky's other works to see how she paints the classes as a general rule, but if they're not more interesting books than Suite Française, I think I'll skip....more
I did not finish this book. In fact I could not. It was my taste as a consumer of books that prohibited me.
Oh sure, I've set aside books before. I'veI did not finish this book. In fact I could not. It was my taste as a consumer of books that prohibited me.
Oh sure, I've set aside books before. I've even set aside books with no intention of continuing them in the future. But never with as adamant a certainty that I would never again pick up the book in order to give it a second chance.
Some may question my ability to judge a book based only on a partial reading, which is fair, but trust me: this book is Bad.
Doris Lessing's The Cleft may actually be the worst book I'd ever read. It's not so much that the ideas expressed were repugnant or in any way offensive, but more that in the place of what we commonly refer to as writing there was instead a collection of hieroglyphic fecal matter.
I had never read any of Lessing's impressive oeuvre and so to encounter this as my first taste of what by at least some accounts is a smorgasbord of delicacies was, in layman's terms, a disappointment. Pacing: scattered by what looks to be the onset of senility. Style: fourth-grade chic. Historical sense: senseless and ahistorical. Characters: there were none and those impressions that threatened to become characters were never better than those cardboard standees you used to find in display windows at Suncoast Video, a Leia or Chewbacca or Boba Fett (of course, none of those impressions ever really approached that sense of solidity that those corrugated paper mementos had).
This book was chosen for our bookclub on the basis that mere months prior its publication, Lessing won the Nobel for literature and the synopsis made it sound like an adventurous read into gender studies. It was not anything of the sort.
Early in Barbery's novel, one of Hedgehog's two protagonists name-drops one of my favourite Japanese comic creators, Jiro Taniguchi. Granted, she refeEarly in Barbery's novel, one of Hedgehog's two protagonists name-drops one of my favourite Japanese comic creators, Jiro Taniguchi. Granted, she referenced Summit of the Gods, which I haven't yet read because only one volume is available in America. But still, that I would share such a rare interest with a fictional twelve-year-old girl was enough to sell me a ticket on Barbery's 325-page experiment in meaning through cultural attachment.
Barbery's novel is funny and thoughtful and scattered and arty and probably more than a little bit frustrating. For me particularly, it was frustrating to spend so much time with Renée. Who I didn't particularly appreciate. But I'm man enough to admit that I don't have to appreciate protagonists to find them useful. So I soldiered on and found myself enjoying the book despite hoping that Renée would get hit by a delivery van and beat a speedy exit. By the final pages though, I found myself softening toward Renée (which was never necessary for my enjoyment of the book) and felt that was a pretty bold move on Barbery's part: to make me like the unlikable. Fortunately, Paloma was for me a joy to read. I never believed that such a child couldn't exist and I never believed that I wouldn't want to date her if I were myself thirteen or fourteen years old.* So props to Barbery for making me feel nostalgic and skeevy all at once.
Also, one should note that the novel is propelled largely in the first-person present tense. In writing that is not pulp fiction, there is really only one reason to choose this method of narration and I was not disappointed to find that Barbery had used it for that exact one reason. But no (!), I fear I have said too much already.
In the end, I suppose one would be forced, Central-Park-mugging-style, to describe my relationship to Barbery's exploration here as satisfied rather than adulant and interested rather than enthusiastic. For me, it mostly felt this way because a) I really only enjoyed the younger of the two protagonists and b) I couldn't be sure that Hedgehog wasn't just a great big put-on and that the characters eruditions and soliloquies weren't every bit as fake as the other inhabitants of 7 rue de Grenelle. By book's end, I wasn't certain that so many of the novel's explanations of art and artifice weren't just a collection of unconnected mini-essays that happened to fit the mood of Barbery in the instant she penned any particular chapter.
Still, I found Paloma utterly fascinating and a good tool for personal self-exploration in her own right. I would gladly read a book that featured her alone, a cynical heroine investigating the mysteries of the mundane.** As well, Kakuro was a worthwhile interruption despite my early fears that he would occupy little more than the role of the mysterious-but-wise Asian figure through whom Westerners come to see the beauty and truth of the world. I mean, sure, that was his role but at least he was a little bit funny and conspiratorial about it and probably had little idea that he was saving Paloma as well as Renée. ________________________
*note: I wouldn't have dated her when I was thirteen or fourteen years old because I was far too shy to talk to girls (even girls I'd admire as much as I would Paloma) with anything beyond caveman grunts or spastic bleatings. I was, at that age, what is known as incurably shy. Don't worry, I got better in a dramatic sort of physician heal thyself manner.
**note: Kakuro could tag along in order to help spoil the local flavour and pay for expenses accrued....more
I'm not really sure what to say about this one. I really can't generate strong feelings one way or another on its behalf. It wasn't bad but it wasn'tI'm not really sure what to say about this one. I really can't generate strong feelings one way or another on its behalf. It wasn't bad but it wasn't good - and conversely, it wasn't good but it wasn't bad. It had likable moments and parts that I laughed at. And some of Haddon's descriptions were priceless (e.g., the "chickeny scrotum" bit). But then there was the rest of it. I kept feeling that if it was either good or bad, I would have relished finishing it so that I could relish talking about it.
But it wasn't. And so I didn't. It was, I guess, the most mediocre book I've ever read. Everything works as a perfect counter-balance for everything else.
The characters are almost uniformly unlikeable - as well as being flatly conceived. But then the tone of the book is largely humourous and brisk. Every event in the novel feels contrived and every dialogue scripted. But the things that are said are sometimes funny and the situations make it possible for more funny things to be said. And so on.
In then end, if you ask me whether I liked the book, I'd simply have to respond with a shrug and one of those perplexed looks that doubles for I don't know.
Apart from a sometimes painfully awkward framing device and a style of writing that is dull enough to actively distance readers from emotionally conneApart from a sometimes painfully awkward framing device and a style of writing that is dull enough to actively distance readers from emotionally connecting to the life and pain of one Valentino Achak Deng (a.k.a. Dominic), What Is the What ended up being not half bad. I suppose it was only a third bad.
Or maybe not actually bad. Maybe just one-third Not Great. Which is okay. We can't all be great.
"What is the what?" is a question that Valentino had been asking himself for a long time. Ever since he was Achak. Back before being reintroduced to his Christian name. The story goes: God approached the ancient Dinka, a people pregnant with hope and dignity, and offered them mastery of cattle, the source of life and greatness. That or the What. God never adequately explained the What to the Dinka and the Dinka, having seen UHF and knowing that there was nothing in the box and that box-pickers are so stupid, chose the safe bet. Cattle. And therefore, life and that abundantly. The other people got the What. Which is why apparently they took out their aggressions on the Dinka.
Okay, so that was a very loose paraphrase.
In any case, Valentino is busy wondering what the What could be when some of his Dinka brethren decide to begin a civil war against the northern half of Sudan (which is largely Muslim and Arab). The North is not a fan of this idea and so does its best to extinguish the Dinka (whether they own cattle or not). This started in 1983 or so and went on a good twenty years before stopping only to maybe start up again in the near future. In the end it really only has anything to do with the What if the What happens to be a thirst for money (and preexistent religious incompatibility). But Valentino doesn't know that. He's only six.
Or he is at first. He grows up over the course of the story. While a lot of his companions die, are killed, are kidnapped, or are lost.
Speaking frankly, Sudan has been an unmitigated disaster of country-running pretty much since it gained indepedence from its colonial British overlords. Since the war began in 1983, well over 2 million Dinka were genocidally put to pasture. What little infrastructure the Southern half of the country had thirty years ago is long since evaporated. There is hope for the country, but it's a slender hope. And a tenuous one. By the way, in case you missed it: 2 million.
To be certain, the subject matter of What Is the What is important for a largely ignorant American audience. We react easily, as a nation, to massacres like Columbine or the World Trade Center destruction, but compared to Sudan, these are mere stubbed toes while Sudan features sheared limbs and exposed organs. We should react easily and emotionally to the Columbines and the World Trade Centers, but we should react as well to the other terrors humanity perpetrates upon itself. Since 1999 I've been part of an organization that has worked with and in Southern Sudan (and Uganda and Kenya). I've met Rebecca Garang (wife of John Garang, the guy who essentially started the civil war by rebelling against an oppressive government). I've seen pictures, heard stories, and met those affected immediately by the situation. The story Eggers presents has more than the ring of truth to it. So far as things go, it is true—in that it represents with unflinching veracity the reality of the Sudanese problem.
I only wish it had been better written.
Eggers does not merely tell his story. He offers a framing device. One that does not adequately capture the life of Valentino and occasionally draws one so far out of story that it becomes difficult to reign back in. (I actually put the book down twice in order to read other books, despite having a limited time to complete What Is the What.) The book opens with Valentino being robbed and assaulted and he takes the opportunity over the next day and a half to think his story at his assailants and other non-Sudanese who come into his path. He's a good man and I feel for him, but the narrative trick just didn't work.
On top of this, Eggers' style here is rather lifeless. He's trying to write in the authentic voice of the very real Valentino Achak Deng, but the work suffers for it. The story content is fascinating but its delivery robs it of much of its fire and zest. It's not incompetent writing. It's just not enjoyable. Or interesting.
Emmanuel Dongala crafts something that is in several ways important, even if its not great literature. Johnny Mad Dog is the tale of two teenagers parEmmanuel Dongala crafts something that is in several ways important, even if its not great literature. Johnny Mad Dog is the tale of two teenagers participating in one of the seemingly perennial genocidal civil wars in Central Africa: one as aggressor and one as victim. The chapters alternate narrators between Johnny, the gun-toting kid who imagines himself an intellectual yet kills freely and without remorse and sees enemies everywhere, and Laokole, a girl caught in the midst of horror, fleeing with her legless mother and younger brother amongst the throng of terrified refugees. Johnny has a second-grade education and believes that true power comes from the barrel of a gun. Laokole is a week away from graduating at the top of her class in highschool with dreams of studying to become an engineer. The story plays out as the narrators live out concurrent events from wildly differing perspectives.
The storytelling conceit is clever, but I'm not sure if it is just a poor translation, but there's rarely any life to the writing. The events themselves power the story, so I suppose that excellence in writing is unnecessary; but it would have been nice. Additionally, the book may have been more interesting had it sought to portray a more sympathetic individual as a member of the genocidal militia. With the sheer number involved in these killings, I'm skeptical that the entire aggressive force is constituted of morons (historically we see time and again people from everyday walks of life get caught up in national madness). The perspective of Johnny seems too easily dismissible, as if Dongala believes education to truly be the solution - which seems a little naive to me.
At the end of the day, it was a worthwhile read. But there are plenty of other worthwhile reads that I'd had preferred to read first....more
It's been three years since I first read Life of Pi. My book club is reading it for the month of June, so I thought I'd freshen up by giving it the olIt's been three years since I first read Life of Pi. My book club is reading it for the month of June, so I thought I'd freshen up by giving it the old re-read.
Seriously? This book is well worth whatever time you can give it. The first time I read the book, I vastly enjoyed it but had that enjoyment diminished by two primary frustrations (after finishing the book for yourself, you can read about those frustrations here: [http://nowheresville.us/2004_04_01_ol...]). This time through, aware beforehand what issue I previously had with the book, I was able to wholly focus on the craft with which Yann Martel approaches his yarn. His narrative ability is fantastic and compared to some of the trite-but-lauded books our club has recently tackled (Johnny Mad Dog and The Lovely Bones), Life of Pi is a sweet and savory breath of fresh air.
I highly recommend purely for the joy of experiencing Pi's tale....more
Generally speaking, Moshin Hamid's slight novel is a brisk, enjoyable, and largely compelling read. And one that, when finished, fails to satisfy in a Generally speaking, Moshin Hamid's slight novel is a brisk, enjoyable, and largely compelling read. And one that, when finished, fails to satisfy in any deeply meaningful way.
And that's fine. The same could be said about The Lord of the Rings.
Hamid's Reluctant Fundamentalist presents a surreal, impossible, and rather-one-sided conversation in a Lahore marketplace between a Pakistani man named for Ghengis Khan and an unnamed American. In the course of Gengis Khan's almost-monologue, he reveals that he (now bearded and a stereotypical Pakistani's Pakistani) had once and very recently been deeply engaged by the American allure. And having graduated from Princeton and been picked up by a highly exclusive and exquisitely capitalistic corporate appraisal company, he was once all about what America, presumably, is about. By conversation's end, having stretched from midday to midnight, Ghengis Khan reveals exactly how his allegiances turned, stimulated by the dual catalysts of the World Trade Center attack and the dissolution of a hopeful romance.
Well before the tale's end, we discover that Ghengis Khan's story of love and disappointment is probably more allegory than history. All for the benefit of his American audience (both fictional and metafictional).
Characters are named conveniently to represent ideas. There's a John the Baptist (Juan-Bautista), essentially, cleansing Ghengis Khan and preparing him for the new world he'll be joining. There's Erica, who pretty clearly represents the joys and favours and mystery and disillusionment to be found in America. There's a Chris, who represents the lost joys that the Christian West might have offered those it blessed, only now sought after through the desperation of nostalgia. Our storyteller works for Underwood Samson a stand-in both for the U.S. and for everything that American capitalistic exceptionalism stands for. As for the storyteller himself, his name is Changez (Urdu for Ghengis) and his is a story about changes.
It's all very well-put-together and cute in its way, but this story tends to trample the thriller-aspect that Hamid is trying to build. In a certain manner this is not an entirely bad thing as when one rounds the final bend of the story, it is discovered that the book is less about being a thriller and more about being a pedagogical device. Hamid wants the reader to confront his or her own presuppositions and biases leaving the conclusion ambiguous, recognizing that many people's demand for story-closure will have them attempting to brute-force a finale onto the book even though no plausible ending is demanded or even hinted at.
In some ways the book succeeds in unveiling the fears and beliefs of readers—if my experience discussing the book with others is any indication. However, there are a couple major faults that prevent the book from truly allowing this to take place: 1) the lamentable choice of cover art (on several of the editions) plays into Islamic fundamentalism where the ideology finds no place in the Changez's story; and 2) those wishing the American to be some sort of secret agent or assassin must be confronted with the fact that no agent or assassin would act with the naive ineptitude that Changez's potentially-furtive conversational partner displays.
In all, I enjoyed The Reluctant Fundamentalist for the taut example of storytelling displayed but ultimately found it could have been better conceived, especially so far as Hamid's pedagogical, reflective angle is concerned.
This review is more experimental than most because it's about a book I read four months ago and essentially remember not at all. In the strictest sensThis review is more experimental than most because it's about a book I read four months ago and essentially remember not at all. In the strictest sense, this probably isn't very fair, but in another may more accurately distill the book's ultimate value than a morning-after review would.
When I say I essentially have no recollection of Let the Great World Spin (a title so forgettable that I usually end up calling it something like Let That Darned Thing Spin Around or Spinning Spinning the World Down or That Tightrope Book), I'm not exactly being honest. Another great way to begin a review and garner trust. What I mean is that the details are all very fuzzy. Details like character names, arcs, and purposes.
I mean I still remember that it's a little bit about Philippe Petit (I looked that up), the WTC funambulist. I also remember that it doesn't follow a single narrative or even tell a single story through multiple narratives. In fact, the book, so far as I recall can only be called a novel in a very loose sense of the term. Loose like basset hound jowls. If at all. More, it functions as a bound collection of interrelated (sometimes only tangentially so) discreet narratives that weave about the event of Petit's walk between the not-even-quite-complete 1974 version of the World Trade Center towers.
I took awhile to think about it just now and I remembered that the first of these stories that didn't involve Petit was the one that I found the most worthwhile. It involved this guy Corrigan who is a conflicted monk and ministers to the local prostitute corps through donut feedings and the use of his bathroom. It's told through the narrative of his brother, named Ciaren or Cieron or something similar, and deals with some interesting applied theology, balancing the question of heavenly needs and earthly ones. I remembered thinking it was interesting at the time.
There was another chapter about a kid photographer that I thought was pretty cool too. Though I couldn't tell you why.
In all, my remnant impression is that Let It All Spin, Joe was competently written, occasionally engaging, a bit scattered, and ultimately hollow. Just to be fair, I glanced through the notes I typed into my Kindle and found this: "This book is absolutely steeped in its sense of place and time." I don't remember what caused me to write that, but it must have been good, right?
A third of the way into Pullman's first installment of His Dark Materials, I was excited.(This fits within the scope of my review of the full series)
A third of the way into Pullman's first installment of His Dark Materials, I was excited. While Pullman wasn't the most eloquent of writers and his characters had yet to really develop at all, it was clear he had an exciting imagination and was as good at world-building as nearly any fantasy author. He had developed an alternate history for our world that while completely foreign was largely analogous to our own that it didn't seem like a different world entirely. They have science and electricity and particle physics and everything - they just call it by a different name.
The real joy and conceit of the series though is Pullman's use of daemons, animal expressions of every character's soul. These familiars are constant companions of every human, expressing through their animal nature the nature and quality of their human companion. And the daemons of children have yet to find a stabilized form and so flit forth and back and over and again through a host of forms - from owl to ermine to tabby to dolphin to moth to monkey. Et cetera.
Throughout the first book's clumsy storytelling, there is still something that approaches near to wonder. Enough to satisfy some readers. The first four-fifths of the narrative are brisk and enjoyable, and the book only begins to falter when Lyra (the heroine) leaves the bear kingdom to meet her first-act climax. Pullman stumbles through an expository patch here and a finale that comes off as slightly less than readable. The book, much like The Fellowship of the Ring ends without an ending, leaving the conclusion for future installments....more