Sometimes I want to punch you in the face. Not sometimes, but almost always at your 1/3 and 2/3 plot twists. Shortly thereafter, particu...moreDearest Diana,
Sometimes I want to punch you in the face. Not sometimes, but almost always at your 1/3 and 2/3 plot twists. Shortly thereafter, particularly with your masterful way of wrapping things up - rather genius for a writer who doesn't do plot well (your words, not mine, dearest), I want to hug you and cry. And when I feel as though I need Outlander rehab I want to call you in tears asking you why you have done this to me. 8 books, plus novellas and off shoots, that are each 700-900 pages long. Not that I am, please understand, afraid of a long book or reading a lot. Both are fine and generally encouraged. But you do know how to make your readers suffer both during and after a book, and sometimes I feel a teensy bit resentful, as if you have ruined my life.
Mostly, I love it.
Let's be frank about a few things right off the bat. You are not really a terribly literary writer. Your prose is a bit clunky, you have a bag of tricks and you do not tend to go outside of it. Your reader is never entirely sure if your books are romance, historical fiction, fantasy, some other thing, but we know that they are enough genre that we can read them quickly, without a pen, pausing over the naughty or horrible bits. We expect your plot to move at an uneven pace, or not at all - that it will be our own desire to see and know Claire and Jamie that will move the plot. You're not going to win the Booker or the Pulitzer until you kill Claire and Jaime, get out of Scotland, and write something completely different. But why would you when your readers love you more than their favorite crack dealer? Outlander the show starts in August (but Diana, the casting is TERRIBLE. Claire is okay, but Jaime? Still. I'll be calling my cable providers to make sure I have Starz and tuning in).
To be fair, you do some things really, really well.
(1) Storytelling - While you are not quite as adept with the storytelling tradition as say, Chaim Potok who I wrote yesterday, you know how to tell a story. You couldn't get away with these bloated books without this skill and you have it in spades. You are a teller, which is fine because you are good at it. In fact, plot makes sense within the confines of the story telling tradition. If we understand your voice is moving the show and that you are telling it to us like a giant, awesome, terrifying bedtime story, we beg for another chapter. Not many writers have this skill and you have honed it over the two decades you have been writing this series.
(2) A sense of place - I can always count on you Diana dearest to get me through the stones and to the place I am supposed to be. I can close my eyes and be in 1947 Scotland, 1745 Scotland, Culloden, Boston, really wherever you want me to be. You have an eye for the big picture and the little detail that capture the readers imagination, which allows the magical movie in our heads to unfold. As I prefer that magical movie created by a good storyteller to almost anything, I find you captivating: “I leaned back on my elbows and basked in the warming spring sun. There was a curious peace in this day, a sense of things working quietly in their proper courses, nothing minding the upsets and turmoils of human concerns. Perhaps it was the peace that one always finds outdoors, far enough away from buildings and clatter. Maybe it was the result of gardening, that quiet sense of pleasure in touching growing things, the satisfaction of helping them thrive. Perhaps just the relief of finally having found work to do, rather than rattling around the castle feeling out of place, conspicuous as an inkblot on parchment.”
(3) Big themes - I've been writing about this a lot lately, because modern literature seems drained of them, as if all of literature had used them up and only ten or fifteen writers had the right to use them in proper literature. Before I met you, I was worried only the most genre of genre still held onto the idea of themes, but oh I was wrong. You not only explore all the major, minor, and newly discovered themes about love, but so many about self, duty, community, honor, and more. If anything theme and character move your novels,“Sometimes our best action result in things that are most regrettable.” You handle them deftly and it adds depth and richness to your work.
(4) And the obvious - Your Characters - If I have a particular poison (other than prose) that I cannot resist in my reading, characters are it. I swoon, faint, purr, fight, argue, and cry over characters and that is just as I like it. I will put up with bad writing, bad plotting, all manner of literary irritations if the characters are finely drawn, motivated by known and unknown desires, and moving through the world, or their corner of it. So truly, it's no wonder you have essentially ruined my life. Claire and Jamie (I'll hit the ratbastard Jack Randall in another review) are epic. Fierce individuals with wide and sometimes contradictory wants. A fierce couple with a crazy love, such a crazy love that their two-some really becomes another character that your reader roots for and despairs when the couple spars with an individual. They are distinct and not derivative.
I can say nothing more about them because I leave that to you. I commend readers to your characters. Whether they like or dislike any other aspect, they should meet Claire and Jaime. With the knowledge that meeting them might very well ruin their lives.
I've been hanging out is Wessex lately, your almost magical, fictional land on the West moors of England. As you might recall,...moreGood Afternoon Thomas,
I've been hanging out is Wessex lately, your almost magical, fictional land on the West moors of England. As you might recall, our initial acquaitance during my senior year of high school was frigid. You were unkind, I was a snob, we were all set to begin a new Emily Bronte novel.
Flash forward to last summer when I tripped over a copy of Alan Rickman reading The Return of the Native. One of the most delicious voices ever, please color me intrigued. By 1/4 way in I was alternating between reading the book on my iPad and listening, which is what I do when I love a book so much I cannnot live without it.
The thing about Return of the Native is the strength of the character's desires and how those desires drive the plot and the narrative. You are a mad, mad genius with this, Thomas. Most of your readers will focus of Eustacia Vie, and I'll get there, but what caught my attention was Digory Venn (the Reddleman) and how his personal evolution from sad and scorned gentleman suitor to a Reddleman living on the moors COMPLETELY RED because he was selling some kind of red carcinogenic substance to unassuming hero for the rather pathetic Thomasin to suitor and gentleman husband for the twice ruined and once redeemd Thomasin. He will not live in polite society without his lady because he longs for her in a way that destroys him. So instead, he demeans himself and removes himself from the situation rather than play second fiddle to the fairly horrid Damon Wildeve, who is good for no one. Hardy does longing like no other, except for the truly great love poets - Yeats comes swiftly to mind. He is our tall brooding prince, who becomes a toad burning with sadness and desperation, willing to do just about anything for his lady except see her feel sorry for him.
The other half of the story's twin helix is your much loved and despised Eustacia Vie. I think one reviewer compared her to the small town girl into midnight train going anywhere. While Venn finds comfort in the moors and tramping among them, she could not hate them more. She wants out. Immediately, if not sooner. And she will take advantage of the desires and longings of others, she almost inhales them, to put them to her use. I do not love Eustacia the way others do. Surely I sympathize, but loving her requires the reader to then throw over Thomasin (her chief competition for men) completely. While I might be willing to do it during Thomasin's first disgrace, I'm not by the end of the book. Which creates this kind of spinning push/pull balance in the book. Everyone is dramatic, flawed, cruel, and in many cases stuck in the wrong place. Even Venn spends way to long moping, so long I became convinced that he was just that man. But they all know what they want, whether its money, or holding Eustacia's hand, or a way out, or Tomasin. And in such a unique way that replicates life so truly, it is that wanting that moves the story, creating a plot that satisfies readers looking for pace and immediacy (Rebecca Pinto) and those looking for character evoltion (me). Of all of the great 19th Century Brit Classics, Tom, this might be my favorite, because in so many ways it is the realism Conrad et al were seeking, only without so much stark inner language. The lives of your characters act like oars to the plot. Its effortless reading and flawless writing.
One of my most favorite scenes in the book is when Eustacia bribes this poor dupe into giving up his spot with the play group (the mummers) by letting him hold her hand. She is plotting ways to get Thomasin's brother's attentions, thinking he will take her to Paris. (instead he becomes a furze cutter while she inadvertantly/sort of on purposely kills his Mom). Our dupe is madly in love with Eustacia, the idea of a wife, romance in general, and counts off his minutes stroking her hand. In the end, both have what they want and neither is fully satisfied. We see Eustacia and Venn at their best and worst, spinning around each other and pulling the other characters out. And the ending is dramatic, driven by the longing of three raving characters, and the survival of only one. A bit Bronteish only in a sweeter, sadder, more true way.
I'm so glad our second date went so well Tom, and I have been so enjoying our recent visits with The Trumpet Major and Two on a Tower. I'm thinking of taking up with Far from the Madding Crowd next and asking you to go steady for the summer, before you head back to Wessex. I cannot think of longing without thinking of you.
A Discovery of Witches is two parts magic, two parts suspense, and two parts romance set in a very slightly altered version of our world. The romance...moreA Discovery of Witches is two parts magic, two parts suspense, and two parts romance set in a very slightly altered version of our world. The romance is epic and witty on the scale of Austin (read: T), suspenseful and historically interesting on the scale of the DaVinci Code, and the magic has the charm and fun of Harry Potter. Every woman I admire would see some part of herself in Diana and swoon at the romance of a strong, self-sufficient woman. As a friend said, it at times has the feel of Alice Hoffman’s “Practical Magic,” especially when the story moves from Oxford to Massachusetts. It is a full five stars and likely the best thing I have read since HP7. But unlike books like The Magicians (boo!) the story is fresh and original. Do not walk, but run quickly in your pjs to your local indie and spend your Sunday in bliss with this treasure.(less)