For a book of moderate length, I found Lolita took a fairly long time to get through. Not that I was trying to research every reference, or anything...moreFor a book of moderate length, I found Lolita took a fairly long time to get through. Not that I was trying to research every reference, or anything; I just had to savour the language. To a great extent, it's the ebb and flow of every line, within itself and in connection to every line around it (regardless of meaning) that drew me on through this book. It's poetry disguised as prose. It really is. Is it 'art for art's sake', then? I'd be quite tempted to say it is, for the most part. Yes, there is a minefield of moral questioning to be set off by the construction, far more than the content, of Lolita. But the fact is that Art guides us to step into that moral minefield. Art takes us as willing captives. Like I said, it's dense stuff, but you keep reading. This is why I think Nabokov offers glory to Art as one of its high priests. Art for Art's sake – for the sake of Art as something holy, splendid and terrible, fatal as society's blindness, and immortal as Humbert's crime. ("Crime." Forgive me. This novel does nothing to discourage skepticism, nor was it meant to.)
However, stepping backwards, the story itself is enough for most of us unenlightened readers. (Well, compared to Nabokov, that'd be just about everyone.) Never mind why Humbert is a sympathetic character, as he is for me, at least. He just is. As is Dolores Haze, as is her pitiable mother, as is the ostensibly villainous Quilty. They are all hateful and appealing in so many ways, and this unfailingly humanity with which Nabokov infuses them is enough to prove his mastery, let alone the rest of what he does here.
What effect did that overwhelming mastery have on me ? Confession time. I cried. A lot. I don't even know quite why. I could not begin to write an essay about it in my first-year university English class. (Thank Quilty we were given a choice.) All I could see was the enormity of what I had not grasped, of what I could NOT grasp and reflect through whatever sorry focus I took in my writing. It's one of those books that will stay, for now, on my mental altar, to be re-approached in the future when I have more capability to grasp Nabokov's subtle insight. I worship humbly from afar. Nevertheless, long after the final page, Lolita skips and teases round the edges of the mind. You see if it doesn't. (less)
Alex, A-lex or the millicents? The malchick or the rozzes? The criminal or the lawful life-breakers? "What's it going to be then, eh?" That last is...moreAlex, A-lex or the millicents? The malchick or the rozzes? The criminal or the lawful life-breakers? "What's it going to be then, eh?" That last is Burgess's recurring line, and I dare say that it's the theme of the book. And the root of the question, as defined through the course of the book, becomes the scum or the scum? Damnit, this book is about scum. We're all scum. Or are we?
There's no way around it; everything and anything we do is violent. Including opposing violence. Looking at it objectively – and Burgess forces a reader to do so, through the clear unreliability of his narrator – society and social control is all a play of opposites. Opposing forces, neither entirely good nor bad; it is our judgement of one or the other as deserving-of-life or not that creates many of our 'problems.'
Nobody in the book is really likeable. It's hard, though, not to take A-lex's side: what could possibly be more endearing than the ever-confidential address of "O my brothers"? Yep, it helps to sucker a reader in, all right. Of course, I can't write a review without mentioning the nadsat, which absolutely made me swoon. I agree wholeheartedly with Burroughs, on both counts: few other authors have done so much with language, and this is a very funny book. Why do people find it's hard to read? I didn't think so at all. It's so very clear what he means, so flowing, so easy to get into. Within the first third of the book, I found myself wanting to speak in Alex's idiom. (Yeah, Mum, almost set for the nochy's campfire, I just need a malenky wash for my grahzny litso.) If I'd done an essay on this like I had a chance to in university, darn it, I would have investigated the transformation of Russian to nadsat, and all its implications. Ah well... another day.... back to these comments.
As I turned pages in the second half of the book, I was partly musing over a comparison with Nineteen Eighty-Four , and have decided – though that's not quite fair; I haven't read it in years, need to reread – that I prefer Anthony Burgess's take on things. Are humans malleable but limited, open to manipulation and irreparable change (Orwell) or are they creatures of infinite choice (Burgess)? My impression of Nineteen Eighty-Four was that it despaired of humanity all the way though. Such a work has its place. A Clockwork Orange doesn't despair of people, but laughs at them, and in my current mental order, I like this way best. Anybody who can read this book and feel depressed is mistaking Burgess's "point", I feel. Yes, there are certainly issues here, heavy ones, probably the hardest that exist anywhere in this universe. These being thus, I will not touch them. The painstaking prodding of human nature, it's so mind-bending and yet (to some, like Burgess) so obvious, that it's almost a non-issue. Alex's story succeeds in setting this to one side, for the sake of making us shake our heads, half in laughter, half in disgust, only to realize we're doing so at our own society, and at ourselves. The art of irony, O my brothers. And, Burgess hints, in most trying times this is the wisest thing we can do, either at his story or at the world.
'Good grief,' Burgess seems to say. 'Violence is there. We are violence. Life is violence. Get over it.' Which opinion is Zen and Beat and all things wise. It's a daring stand, but one I'm willing to stand up for. Morality does not exist separately from selfishness, and the sooner we realize it, the less muddled we'll all be about who we are and what we ought to be aiming for here. It's not depressing, no. It's freeing, because it's the rock-bottom truth. And it gives us permission to step outside the traditional bounds of morality, nudges us to raise an eyebrow at the legitimacy of any 'moral' position.
(I could go on... but I won't. I'll go read Mr. Morrison's introduction, which I've saved, and discover some sky-high literary-philosophical insights that make me want to take all this back. But if you've read this far, thank you for respecting my own thoughts so kindly, and all that cal.)(less)
**spoiler alert** Composed of striking language and equally striking ideas, this book had me hooked by about page two. I loved the time-travel. I love...more**spoiler alert** Composed of striking language and equally striking ideas, this book had me hooked by about page two. I loved the time-travel. I loved the adventure. I loved the philosophical debating, and wished I was well-versed in modern philosophy to understand more of it. I loved the romance, especially (OOPS, SPOILER) the contrast between Kitty & Richard's and Susan & James's. I loved the socialism. Heck, I loved the full-blown Communism. I loved the accumulating criticism of the occult, the Church, and the government that leave thinking people with nothing to depend on besides themselves.
For me, though, the most memorable part of the intrigue is the heroes who battle through it. James, Susan, Kitty and Richard – I hope that I'll someday know more real people I appreciate and admire this much. They remind me of the best people I already know. Brave, impetuous, insightful, stubborn, witty, vulnerable, strong all in their own ways, relentlessly real through 'their own' voices, so wonderfully articulated by their creators. Steven Brust and Emma Bull have transformed the way I think about characterization. As it would appear from my rating, I see this transformed view as a positive thing. Right? Well, it's maybe bad, in that I'm not sure if it's heightened my discernment or narrowed my mind. I have a new, incontrovertible yardstick by which to measure each literary protagonists I meet and it's going to make me a hell of a lot pickier. But I also enjoy the challenge of unravelling why they're such great characters.
It's partially the merit of the format. Letters and journal entries portray not only how the characters know themselves, but how they know each other; we see how they themselves, and their relationships, transform. We understand them differently, with the strangely distanced intimacy that comes of peering into somebody's personal life. Which is enormously stimulating. Traditional prosaic chapters in third-person or even first-person can't achieve that to the same degree. (The only thing that bothers me is wonder WHEN Susan, in particular, had time to write thirty-odd page letters, sometimes more than once in a day. And was the postal service really as efficient as it appears? That's my thinking, dull & practical. But since unlimited writing time seems to be an oddity with epistolary novels in general, I won't hold it against this one.)
The main four aren't the only ones to almost dumbfound me with admiration. Engels and Mary are fantastic; in a perfect world Brust and Bull would have written a companion novel about those two .... I had thought that Thomas Cavanaugh might end up sacrificing himself to rescue Richard midway through, but luckily I was wrong, as he played an even more satisfying role later on. My heart bled for Henry, because I recognize him – I think we all do – his exuberance and his naïve belief in immortality. I treasured even the briefest sketches, like the one of Marx: "... a good-natured lion that can take your breath away even in casual conversation."
So it was not only the exceptionally intriguing plot, but deep investment in the characters that sucked me through the story. I couldn't help feeling as edgy as Kitty must have, hearing of the action but helpless to affect anything. I was convinced, near the end, that her 'visions' were going to prove wholly irrelevant, and James was fated to die. James's death seemed unbearable, and yet "right" to me, believing the prediction was a simple matter of amassing clues.That he might live seemed too good to contemplate, until it actually happened. If you expected what I did, both the lead-up to the Trotters' Club confrontation and the against-the-odds triumph of the underdogs will awe you. How silly was I? "Fate" doesn't exist in the written world unless the author declares herself God, and I should have seen from the beginning that Brust and Bull did no such thing. Their characters rule themselves, and THAT is why the characters enthral me. They are 'fated' only by the freedoms and necessities that they have chosen, and those which they choose throughout the novel. I'm not saying James "chooses" to live when he's bleeding from an arrow wound (though he does, and that has to be significant). I am, however, saying that nothing is inevitable in a world where human beings take responsibility for their lives.
We delude ourselves by scorning the failure of realism when James lives. "Literary correctness" does not have the power to claim him. Nor are any of us thrown without our permission into a quasi-Gothic universe, or one ruled by Fate, or by the conventions of literature. Such a universe, I would argue, is the one pressed on us by mysticism, politics and institutionalized religion. At the centre is James's fight against the demons of disempowering "Fate." His death would be his defeat, and the defeat of the novel's purpose.
At this point, I have two thank-yous to say. First is to Brad Simkulet, who lent this to me. He is only getting it back because I love and respect him, and because I know our conversations revolving around the book will be even more interesting after we've re-read it. I will buy a copy as soon as humanly possible.
A sheepish acknowledgment: this review is written, or at least guided in large part by my emotional response to Freedom and Necessity. I have tried to be logical, but it deserves more than "pure" logic, if there is such a thing. This book soared past my logical faculties and perched, preening, beautiful, in dim corners that don't lend themselves so easily to my critical flashlight. I count that as proof of its brilliance. I will be re-reading this – more than once, I'm certain – and I will edit/add to this review whenever I do so. Somehow the thought is strengthening, a definite literary challenge and joy that I look forward to. Thank you, thank you, thank you to the authors, for giving us this magnificent story.
**spoiler alert** Finally, finished Jhereg! Yay. Running alongside Vlad on life-threatening missions was fun, and I'm certain it's going to continue t...more**spoiler alert** Finally, finished Jhereg! Yay. Running alongside Vlad on life-threatening missions was fun, and I'm certain it's going to continue to be fun through the next two in this volume....
UPDATE: Okay, here are my thoughts on the first book I've read in the Vlad Taltos series. First things I'll get over with are what didn't necessarily impress me. This book contains, for lack of a better term, a lot of 'tell-don't-show' style information: "Wow, Vlad/Boss, how did you figure THAT out?" "Genius explanation by Vlad." "Shit, Boss. That's bad, but you're brilliant." I'm not saying Vlad is too perfect as a character, far from it - it's just that his revelations somehow got a tad dry by the end. Don't know exactly how it could have been done differently, and maybe I'm just not used to it because I just haven't read enough crime novels lately.
The other thing which I was more disappointed with was the very ending itself, with the return to Vlad's contemplation of whether his past life as a Dragaeran greatly affects who he is now. It's presented (apparently) for the sake of a moralizing conclusion, which was totally misplaced in my eyes:
" ' You know, Aliera,' I said, 'I'm still not really sure about this genetic inheritance through the soul. I mean, sure, I felt something for it, but I also lived through what I lived through, and I guess that shaped me more than you'd think. I am what I am, in addition to what I was. Do you understand what I mean?' Aliera didn't answer; she just looked at me, her face unreadable. An uncomfortable silence settled over the room, as we all sat there with our thoughts. Kragar studied the floor, Cawti [who provided her husband with his current 'revelation' about ten chapters ago] caressed my forehead...."
Enough about the downsides. I greatly enjoyed the depiction of this universe, which I can't help linking intrinsically with the Star Wars galaxy. (Vlad should build himself a podracer so he can stop teleporting.) The addition of sorcery and witchcraft, however – with a neat distinction between the two – makes it unique, less hokey than 'the force.' The detailed weaponry is also, I must admit, rather intriguing. So is the link that Aliera, Morrolan and Vlad have with their particular weapons, which have really cool names. I mean, I seriously want to carry on a kick-ass fight with a two-foot length of gold chain called Spellbreaker. I'm not kidding.
I will wrap this up with my hypothesis that Brust has strictly personal reasons for giving Vlad Taltos a moustache. Namely, Vlad is a bit of a Mary Sue. Just look at some concept art for Vlad:
And look at Stephen Brust:
Poor Stevie. All he's got is a parakeet.
I can't help being amused, but I honestly feel empathy for the guy. Who wouldn't want to be Vlad Taltos? And who has more right to be than the person who created him in the first place?
One thing I have to admire, I can not predict the twists that these books' plots take. I'm not much good at predicting plot twists anyway, but in the case of the Vlad Taltos books I doubt it's just me. I think it proves how well-versed Brust is in the science of intrigue, and how artfully crafted this entire world is.
So, Vlad and Cawti met up in this one. That was fun and frisky. Cawti's an excellent character, not least because she is equal or possibly superior to Vlad in every conceivable way. I'm glad that Vlad doesn't fall in love with some wimpy female and awaken his 'soft side' to protect her. That would have weakened the action.
In the sidelines, Vlad and Loiosh's bickering continues to be amusing, and after the hundredth "Shut up, Loiosh" it doesn't really even get stale. Not much. It just makes one feel how well they know each other. I still hope we'll hear them having a real psionic heart-to-heart one day, not just their banter between Vlad's other conversations.
I will maintain that Sticks is the best character in Yendi. "There's no future in it, Boss." (less)