Delightful, genre-fusing fun that pretends to be more progressive than it really is.
With Alexia Tarabotti, her sarcastic, unconventional heroine, I g...moreDelightful, genre-fusing fun that pretends to be more progressive than it really is.
With Alexia Tarabotti, her sarcastic, unconventional heroine, I get the sense that Carriger was trying to create a feminist icon but didn't really succeed. Alexia is the kind of heroine who is written to appeal to young women who feel like they don't quite fit in, or deliberately want to be "original," without really examining gender politics or actually being subversive. For all that she's said to be well-read and intelligent, the book implies that it's okay that she's a social outlier -- because there's this rich, powerful MAN who accepts her for herself, thus validating her! Which doesn't sit well with me. Also disappointing is the distinct lack of intelligent female characters, other than Alexia. It clues us in to a sort of "I'm not like those other silly women, I'm better" attitude, which I've never found very feminist. If you've got a truly kickass female protagonist you shouldn't have to belittle or dumb down the women around her to make her shine.
Soulless plays with tropes in interesting ways, and the characters, while mostly not more than two-dimensional (excepting Professor Lyall), all have qualities that make them appealing and loveable. I can forgive the flattening of character, somewhat, because by stereotypifying them Carriger opens up space for a lot of recurring jokes -- and she has great comedic timing. Much can be forgiven in a book that is laugh-out-loud funny. I mean, even the sex scenes are (intentionally) hilarious: how rare and awesome is that?(less)
I thought it was pretty close to perfect, until the last ten pages or so; I walked away from the ending dissatisfi...moreThe Land of Laughs is a tricky book.
I thought it was pretty close to perfect, until the last ten pages or so; I walked away from the ending dissatisfied -- distressed, even -- and am still trying to work out whether it was a failure on the level of expectation or of writing. Was I thrown because I assumed the narrative would follow traditional, comforting fantasy logic? Or did Jonathan Carroll just write a careless, pulpy, trainwrecky ending?
The novel starts out full of nostalgia and metafiction. Two very odd people, Thomas (narrator) and Saxony (love interest; firey, tactless, vulnerable, stubborn, and adorable!) are drawn together by a mutual obsession with Marshall France, author of the whimsical children's books they fell in love with and never quite let go of. The plot unfolds quickly and engagingly. Thomas and Saxony become involved, and involved in a project to write France's biography. They end up in Galen, France's hometown, meeting his daughter and the people he used to live amongst. And then things get really fucking weird, shifting the emphasis to the "magical" half of "magical realism."
There's a lot of fun in the middle section of the book, and wonder, and exploration of the magical power of words. Without spoiling anything, I'll say -- the shiny surface of the town disintegrates. Think Disney on psychoactive drugs. Pay close attention to the cracks, Reader, and don't make the mistake of expecting a traditional happy ending, like I did; Carroll is much more subversive than that.
There's no doubt that he's good. Carroll writes with a light, sweet touch which I really enjoy, especially after my recent binge on too much ponderous postmodern stuff. He carries the narrative with a concise mixture of smart dialogue and internal narration, and leaves the boring bits out, so scenes come through like little detailed pictures in sharp, bright colours. The book's actually written in first person -- but in a personable, colloquial sort of first person, which makes it feel as if the narrator's a good conversationalist who's chatting with you.
I will read Jonathan Carroll again. I might even read this book again. But I'll probably skip the last ten pages.
I wonder what I would have thought if I'd read the Narnia books as a child?
(I didn't; I only read them recently because I fell in love with Lev Grossm...moreI wonder what I would have thought if I'd read the Narnia books as a child?
(I didn't; I only read them recently because I fell in love with Lev Grossman's The Magicians, which deconstructs Narnia in what is clearly Grossman's attempt to work through the baggage he acquired when he realised that reality wasn't what fantasy books promised it would be. It sounds silly ... but as a lifelong fantasy book addict, I have this problem too, okay.)
I think you sometimes miss an essential magic if you encounter a work of children's/YA lit for the first time as an adult. Your imagination doesn't always fill out the structure of the story -- it comes across a little too spare; you can spot the cracks. Whereas if you read something in your formative years, a glowing, impenetrable aura of sparkly love forms around it and shelters it from retrospective cynicism. I will probably happily read my Tamora Pierce books every five years for the rest of my life.
What's interesting about the Narnia books is that I read them this year, at the age of twenty-one, and they were still very fucking magical. C.S. Lewis, I think, has the power to tap into a very deep, very fundamental wellspring at the core of fantasy, from which the laws of happily-ever-after and all-will-be-made-right flow. When the logic of fantasy storytelling is obeyed, everything that happens just feels -- right, deep inside your heart, like a clear bell being struck.
But it doesn't always work. Because I am twenty-one. And I know about allegory.
In interviews -- and I've read a lot, believe me, I went through a period where I thought Lev Grossman was my intellectual soulmate and read everything a Google search of his name turned up -- Grossman often mentions the Narnia books. And how much he loved them. And how much less he loved them after he found out that Aslan was supposed to be Jesus.
I guess it would have been a pretty shocking retcon.
Anyway, this is the problem I keep running into, as an atheist: the Narnia books are underpinned with Christian allegory. Everyone knows this, as an adult. But if you know this prior to reading, the fantasy logic is laid bare by the critical eye and revealed as religious didacticism.
Or maybe it isn't, and if I'd read Narnia as a small child I'd have clued into the fact that something wasn't sitting quite right with me morally, but been unable to articulate it.
I really wonder, though, what I would have thought of the ending of The Last Battle. (view spoiler)[Midway through the book, Eustace mentions -- offhandedly (Lewis probably thought this was clever foreshadowing; I think it's horrifying) -- that he'd thought that jerk he experienced on the train had been an incipient crash. Except, no: it was just a jerk out of reality, and into Narnia. EXCEPT, NO: it had been a train crash, Aslan explains happily, at the end! He'd died on that train, along with his family and friends! And now, being dead, he gets to stay in Narnia forever!
If I'd read this as a child, and been unable to make the Narnia = heaven connection, I would have been totally unable to process what the fuck sort of ending that was supposed to be. As it is, I'm still kind of horrified. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)