A common "subgenre" of fan-fiction is the one that retells a famous story from someone else's point of view. I recall my 5th grade t**spoiler alert**
A common "subgenre" of fan-fiction is the one that retells a famous story from someone else's point of view. I recall my 5th grade teacher waxing enthusiastic over a retelling of the Three Little Pigs from the wolf's point of view. Other examples I know of include Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, or Wicked by Gregory Macguire.
Such a concept works very well for parodies and jokes, and/or for creative thinking/writing exercises, but I remain deeply ambivalent over their use in serious fiction. Such an undertaking suggests implicit criticism of the original author and an inherent arrogance to the re-writer.
There is an inescapable air of "Oh you liked that story, huh. Well, here's what REALLY happened. And everything you know is wrong. Let me enlighten you." I don't mind this in a comedic re-write, because the very idea and any arrogance are part of the joke. When a re-write is done seriously, though, that's troublesome.
Longbourn by Jo Baker takes Pride and Prejudice and re-writes it from the servants' point of view. While paralleling the classic in many ways, it also opposes it in many others. Where Pride and Prejudice was concise, Longbourn is verbose, full of what my English teacher called "sensory language," overflowing with sights, smells, touches, and descriptions of the weather. Everyday routines and chores are gone over with great detail. Whereas P&P was silent as to the more unpleasant aspects of everyday life (probably because Jane Austen didn't know enough to realize that they were unpleasant), this author peppers her narratives with descriptions of washing, scrubbing, chamber pots, periods, mud, excrement, profanity, bad food, poor light, wartime atrocities, pedophilia and all sorts of things that Jane Austen never deigned to notice.
All that detail, all that exploring another era is perfectly fine (even welcome) for an original historical novel. In this context, it feels more like a sneer, because it is not done for fun, but for enlightenment.
Furthermore, I was annoyed when Longbourn goes above and beyond the original text, inventing back stories, motivations, and even characterizations, in order to make someone else's story what She wants it to be. These extrapolations from "canon" that she makes are frequently irritating, being born not of the text but of the author's (understandably) modern attitudes about class and sexism.
It's like she is saying "Oh, modern reader, you like reading about the Bennet sisters, do you? Did do know how overworked the servants were in that era? Did you know how much WORK went into keeping up the Bennets' frivolous lifestyle? Do you? Do you! Let me enlighten you. Oh, you yearn for a Bingley of your own, do you? You do realize that ALL those rich British families got their money from slavetrading, right?"
Sigh. Many historical families probably did. But Pride and Prejudice is literature, not history. And since there was no hint of slavetrading in the LITERATURE, then there no reason to assume it now. Except, of course, for the reason that the author wants to show off her knowledge (and opinions!) of prior eras.
Even worse. She gives Mr. Bennet an illegitimate child! This is inspired from the incident in the original book where... um... Mr. Bennet grew exasperated by his stupid wife... so... women were downtrodden... and he is a man... and rich and white... and therefore... yeah...
It was written well enough, and in spots very interesting, and even enjoyable. But the underlying attitude, the arrogant assumptions of it, kept breaking through the narrative like an erupting infection, ultimately making this an unfulfilling read for me. ...more
Tree of Freedom by Rebecca Caudill is a 1949 Newbery Honor book. As with many honored children's books from that period, this one dealt with regionalTree of Freedom by Rebecca Caudill is a 1949 Newbery Honor book. As with many honored children's books from that period, this one dealt with regional history. This particular honoree deals with the a family pioneering in Kentucky in 1780 while the American Revolution is winding down. The Venable family is of French Huguenot extraction (which satisfactorily explains why their children are named things like Stephanie and Noel). They deals with the typical hardships and fears, with an added emphasis on the danger of greedy land barons. They are illiterate, but hardworking and portrayed sympathetically. Their dialogue is written phonetically, per their rural accents. Stephanie , as the main character, is typically plucky. She is docile enough to please her fractious father, and independent enough to support her rebellious brother. There are many interesting period details, such as the mother's ability to read French (not English), yet not be able to speak French. A few plotlines I wish were more developed, including the tensions between the illiterate Pa, and his well-to-do in-laws. Although I have read better, deeper "pioneer family" fiction, I have also read much worse. ...more
**spoiler alert** The Sherlockian by Graham Moore is two mysteries in one. Each chapter alternates between the two storylines, each reaching a conclus**spoiler alert** The Sherlockian by Graham Moore is two mysteries in one. Each chapter alternates between the two storylines, each reaching a conclusion that more or less complements the other. The more interesting of the two is the historical mystery section featuring Arthur Conan Doyle and his BFF Bram Stoker, as they are sucked into investigating a serial murder in turn of the century London. The modern portion features Harold, a Holmes and Doyle enthusiast, who gets involved in a world-wide chase trying to find Conan Doyle's lost diary, a diary that coincidentally covers the Doyle-Stoker investigation. I enjoyed the historical parts better. The author does a good job of showing Doyle's "warts and all," even if Doyle himself didn't think they were warts. Specifically, it shows him opposing women's suffrage, which somehow doesn't make him a monster! Nice restraint there, Moore. But more interesting than that is his attitude towards fandom, something that is still quite relevant today. The setting takes place just after Doyle had "killed off" his beloved detective and it is very amusing (and illuminating) to see Doyle's utter inability to understand why his readers were upset. Some modern authors (of all mediums) should take note. The modern story is the weaker and has a really weird ending. I didn't find Harold particularly compelling, nor his "girlfriend, nor his quest, nor his ultimate disillusionment. Destroying the diary seems quite... an overreaction. It suggests a greater betrayal than what actually happened. The solution to the Doyle mystery, while nothing special, was stronger. Both storylines are okay. However, combined they are not greater than the sum of their parts. In the end, I thought it at least included an interesting discussion on the nature of fictional characters, their authors, and their audiences.
Recommended for old-school mystery fans, especially "Sherlockians."...more
The Revolt of the Eaglets is a direct sequel to Jean Plaidy's The Plantagenet Prelude. This 1977 entry was part of her never-ending quest to fictionalThe Revolt of the Eaglets is a direct sequel to Jean Plaidy's The Plantagenet Prelude. This 1977 entry was part of her never-ending quest to fictionalize each and every aspect of British history. This novel picks up just after the end of the last one. Thomas a Becket has just been murdered and the marriage of King Henry and Queen Eleanor has fallen apart.
Whereas the previous book was very much Eleanor's story, the Revolt of the Eaglet's is told mostly from Henry's perspective, although various chapters are told from the eyes of other characters from Eleanor, to young Henry, to King Louis of France. Even Berengaria gets a chapter, though this seems to be more of setting up things to come than anything to do with this book.
The prose is straightforward, perhaps a little too straightforward. Many chapters run along the lines of this happened, then this happened, and this is how Henry felt about it. Then this happened. There is quite a bit of repetition. Repetition can be an effective literary technique, but in this instance I found it a bit tiresome. How many times can Henry wish for loving sons? How many times can someone call King Louis a monk? The same points are hit over and over again with the regularity of a hammer.
None of the characters are all that likable, which is somewhat unusual for this author, I find. Her usual tactic is to pick something that the historical personage did NOT get, and make that the one thing they long for above all else, thus creating sympathy. For example, the historical Queen Adelaide did not have any living children. In Plaidy's Victoria in the Wings, what the character of Queen Adelaide wishes for more than anything else is to be a mother. She is doomed by history to be forever unfulfilled.
In this instance, King Henry longs for loving sons above all else, and gets rebels instead. This, however, does not make him sympathetic. Henry continues to be, in Plaidy's depiction, a despicable human being. He is selfish, self-centered, seduces a child, and is really, really whiny. Eleanor is also annoying, but since she spends most of the novel in captivity, her negative traits don't register as much. King Louis continues to be the most likable character. He tries so hard to be a good man and a good king, yet it is never really successful. The cumulative effect is kind of unpleasant.
Nevertheless, this is good read for those seeking a straightforward, matter-of-fact fictional version of early Plantagenet history.
**spoiler alert** Well… that was… bleak. The tone was so curiously hopeless for a children’s book. Even if some of the tragedy was lifted in the very**spoiler alert** Well… that was… bleak. The tone was so curiously hopeless for a children’s book. Even if some of the tragedy was lifted in the very last moments, there was so much previous bleakness accumulated that it felt… almost wrong. The tragedies had piled on one atop another, like a snowball rolling downhill, gathering speed and heft. When the calamities suddenly stopped (and a few reversed) it was weird. Not tacked on exactly. More like a sudden void in the story.
The good news is that characters, setting, and even the plot points themselves feel realistic and authentic. It’s well written and interesting and likely historically accurate. But that tone…
Here is a list of bad that 13-year-old Clem goes through over the course of the novel: #1 He lives in a mining town in the Ozarks during the 1920s, rife with poverty. #2 His Pap forces him to quit his beloved school early to become a miner, which he hates. #3 His beloved little sister has epilepsy, his grandfather has tuberculosis, and they need the money for doctors. #4 He finds a beautiful crystal in the mine and Pap smashes it to teach him not to dream. #5 His beloved little sister dies. #6 His father is injured in the mine, leaving Clem as the sole wage-earner in the family. #7 A tornado destroys the town. #8 His beloved dog dies in the tornado. #9 His best friend (a ragged girl disfigured by her drunken father) dies in the tornado. #10 His other friend survives the tornado only to die in a fire a day later.
Some of the misfortune is pulled back on, in the last few pages, but, oh dear, really? I mean, this is full on “My Graves” style bleak (and if you get that reference, you deserve a cookie!). Realistic, probably. Well-written, yes. From the heart - definitely. Recommended… I suppose so, as long as you understand what you are getting into. ...more