Titus Groan feels like it’s been at the top of every fantasy recommendation list I’ve ever seen, but I’ve put off reading it for ages because every tiTitus Groan feels like it’s been at the top of every fantasy recommendation list I’ve ever seen, but I’ve put off reading it for ages because every time I tried, I got bogged down in the first paragraph. It’s a weird (and embarrassing) thing cuz I sort of pride myself on being a good reader. But it at least made me put it off until later. Anyway, if that happened to you, no shame, and be advised that it’s really not indicative of the book in general.
It’s cliché and overused to say so, but Peake’s prose is truly painterly. Titus is a slow book with only a few plot developments. It takes its time really detailing its cast of characters, including (another cliché) the castle itself. Everyone is a caricature (and this is more clear in the edition with Peake’s sketches), a technique that apparently comes from Dickens? Their names are overflowing with personality, and their characterization is done in prose portraits. It’s all very British, and even has some moments that have a hint of British comedy shows, which I was totally not expecting.
The imagery is dense in choice phrases; it doesn’t take a lot of time and effort to parse because it’s so effectively worded. I did find myself less engaged with it in the latter third of the book, though I’m not sure if the novelty was wearing off or I wasn’t giving it the time I should been or what. I was a bit put out when he switched to present tense and indulged a full chapter of stream of consciousness from each character – I’m sure there are good reasons for both of these things in the context of the larger story, but they were both annoying and pushed me out of the flavor of the world a bit.
The best thing about Titus Groan is the castle. It pulls off a dreamlike surreality that practically nothing I’ve ever read can match, and it really makes the book stand out. Imagery and ideas that could be lame in the hands of an author less skilled at description. Unearthing Barquentine stands out in my mind, but the hordes of white cats and the Room of Roots, or Rottcodd up in the Room of Bright Carvings fit too. They have a bare veneer of plausibility, just enough to dispel any notion that the book is meant to be read as some sort of hallucination. I’m sure a fair number of people have tried with varying success to imitate this feat, but it would still be nice if contemporary fantasy tried to achieve this effect more often. ...more
Romanticism feels like it can't make up its mind who its audience is. Honour follows the style of Landscape and Memory and In Ruins, building thematicRomanticism feels like it can't make up its mind who its audience is. Honour follows the style of Landscape and Memory and In Ruins, building thematic arguments with a series of anecdotes about painters, writers, and critics. But he is trying to cover far more ground, and perhaps feels the need to be more inclusive. He provides much less context for his anecdotes, and while a reader familiar with the artists he mentions might find his arguments interesting, it was really hard for me to keep up with his ideas while also orienting myself in the artistic and political milieus he moves between. It is, in short, not the adult-textbook sort of introduction to Romanticism I was looking for. It also does that obnoxious thing where any French quote shorter than two sentences isn't translated. If you didn't expect us to understand it, why did you include it???...more
Christian Fantasy charts the use of fantasy by Christian authors over nearly a millenium of literary change. I got a solid background on a lot of earlChristian Fantasy charts the use of fantasy by Christian authors over nearly a millenium of literary change. I got a solid background on a lot of early fantasy precursors I was totally unfamiliar with and unlikely to ever read - the Queste del Saint Graal, or Pilgrim's Progress, or The Faerie Queene. I knew to expect it to some degree, but I was astonished at how overtly allegorical many of these books were; apparently it wasn't acceptable to write flights of fancy if they weren't didactic, and so these dour, sometimes literally Puritanical authors had to insist on the salience of their second meaning to absurd degrees. The Queste is populated with wandering literary critics who analyze its own events to ensure the audience understands; Faerie Queene and Pilgrim's Progress both name their characters after deadly sins and platonic ideals, lest we ignore their higher meanings.
Manlove is a good writer and an insightful reader and critic; his opinions are sharp and his analyses feel thoughtful. But he wastes so much of the book concerned with theology, with how the writers conceptualized fantasy as a tool for religious communication, with the Christian meanings of their texts, that I often got bored and skimmed. It was certainly to the detriment of other angles on the topic. Manlove often acts like his chosen examples are Christian while the rest of the fantasy of the time is not; this may be true in the 20th century, but its an assertion that needs defending in 13th century chivalric Romance. Along the same lines, Manlove never investigates the influence Christianity has had on fantasy - which seems major, and was the thing I was most interested in.
Regardless, it's well-written and I got some good background info from it on the historical evolution of fantasy. He's not stupid, just unfortunately preoccupied with things that don't exist/matter. I understand that it's important and helpful to read Christian works on their own terms, but it's kind of a shame that that's all the book does. ...more
Buried Giant started a little thinkpiece storm about the boundaries and respectability of genre fantasy literature. That’s a boring conversation, butBuried Giant started a little thinkpiece storm about the boundaries and respectability of genre fantasy literature. That’s a boring conversation, but one thing is true: too few really great fiction authors feel comfortable coming to play in the fantasy genre. Fantasy has a lot of really unique and skilled new voices lately, from Susanna Clarke, to George RR Martin, to Joe Abercrombie, to China Mieville. Authors who bring a depth and originality and psychology to their characters, explore themes, craft brilliant prose, eschew hack conventions and posturing, and otherwise do all the things that set literature proper apart from pulp fantasy.
But these are all homegrown genre authors, and it would be nice to see what authors used to crafting stories without leaning on the inherent interest of fantasy concepts could do in the genre. There are probably a few attempts at such boundary crossing. Umberto Eco maybe straddles a line in the first place. AS Byatt is the best example. Her fantasy works bring a totally unique and mature perspective to fantasy that I can’t get enough of. So, while I was a bit hesitant to get my hopes up, I thought Buried Giant might be a good addition to this small club.
Turns out my hesitations were well-founded. Neil Gaiman said that he liked Buried Giant but didn’t love it because he feared allegory was waiting in the mists like an ogre. This is the crux of this novel’s failure (though certainly not the extent of it). Ishiguro uses the trappings of fantasy to create an intangible, ephemeral fairy tale landscape that trades in some quite literal metaphors. It is About important Life Concepts like death and memory and love, but it is content to substitute an entirely uninspired fantasy setting for the characterization and psychology needed to actually sell such an exploration.
It would be fine if the world were uninspired if the shortfall were made up in rich and compelling characters. The premise is decent – putting an old couple through a fantasy exploration narrative has not been done all that much, surely. But Axl and Beatrice are tremendously milquetoast (and his habit of calling her princess is grating, my god). And what is this dialogue even going for?
The prose is no better. It’s not dense. Quite the opposite, in fact: it’s almost slippery, without definition and variety. It can be hard to keep track of what is going on because everything is so indistinct and lackadaisical. The style is probably intentional—no one could become a prominent novelist with prose like this for lack of control. But it’s hard to see how it achieves anything but boredom.
The novel plays out like a layered puzzle, with amnesiac protagonists who remember things throughout according to the author’s convenience. It feels like Ishiguro wants us to follow the clues and try to figure things out. It’s just all so obvious, and the interpretations come so easily to hand and don’t ever suggest there is anything more going on than the most facile and saccharine metaphors. It’s fine, good, perhaps inescapable for an interpretation to be intuitive when a mystery is first presented. But you can’t just follow through and deliver the most obvious conclusion without any complicating factors.
The story reads like an allegory to the extent that I occasionally wondered if I wasn't meant to think the protagonists were literally Alzheimer's patients in a nursing home. Monster sequences feel so flaccid, and cryptic encounters feel so pregnant with implications, that it's hard to escape the impression there is something going on beneath the surface. But if there is a deeper grounding reality to the whole thing, it's never made clear, and while it would be dumb, it wouldn't change the uninspired psychology of the book as it is told.
It’s so boring, all of it, and I’m baffled that anyone can think there’s depth here. Read a Byatt story. She could execute this concept in 30 pages with great flavor and characterization and interesting prose B|
I’d like to be able to point to a few redeeming traits here. The premise, as I mentioned, is pretty good, but that only sets up a disappointing experience. The mist of forgetting makes everyone a bit muddled and quirky, and it almost seems at first like it’s going to be like Dark Souls. But that too is just a setup for disappointment. The world portrayed has a nice flavor. The underground burrows, the decent vegetation descriptions, and the ever-present mist create a melancholy and post-traumatic vibe that works some of the time.
The monster descriptions were mysterious and neat, but they reminded me of The Brothers Grossbart and that just made me think of how much more punch that book had, how many more risks it took (they are sort of cut from the same medieval journey story cloth). And there are some neat setups that just never go anywhere. One time they kill a man and a pale snake crawls out of his body? That was tantalizing, but just set up another disappointment.
Overall, Buried Giant made me sad and tired of reading it and I would not recommend it to anyone else. ...more
Very nice little ecological scifi story, premised in a murmurous relationship with a unique feel. Its premise felt a bit overwrought at times, with alVery nice little ecological scifi story, premised in a murmurous relationship with a unique feel. Its premise felt a bit overwrought at times, with all the moon phases and the elaborate ritual-based taboo culture, but it overcomes that in the execution for the most part. Definitely within the scope of fiction I'm excited to become a part of, and I'm glad to know she's out there and look forward to reading more of her work....more