there's a moment so indelible in 'the wizard of oz' that it's become a catchphrase for some situations: "pay no attention to that man behind the curtathere's a moment so indelible in 'the wizard of oz' that it's become a catchphrase for some situations: "pay no attention to that man behind the curtain." it's at this point where the machinations to motivate the characters all come out in the open, where what's actually going on has gotten painfully obvious. it also works as a kind of metaphor for the contract i expect between author and reader - i promise to believe (at least for a little while) in this fictional world they've hallucinated for me, and in return, the author sweeps me up in such an engaging tale that i have no desire to leave it.
'Alif' has both an engaging tale, and an occasionally all too obvious woman behind the curtain.
Alif is a computer hacker for hire, a self-styled "grey hat" that protects people's blogs and underground web sites from the state police of his Arab government. as part of a messy breakup, he ends up with an ancient book that may or may not have been written by jinn, and gets swept up into an unseen supernatural world that has a huge impact on the seen, real one.
this book absolutely should have done it for me. it hits the speculative sweet spot where it's not easily categorized as sci fi or fantasy, it realistically depicts an Arab setting instead of the standard wizard-in-the-midwest sort of UF that's done to death, and holy crap not everyone in the world is white. maybe it's all that potential for greatness that ends up disappointing when it's merely ok? the characters are mostly one-dimensional, and the protagonist's growth mostly amounts to realizing that he's been a bit of an ass most of his life. the part that jarred me out of the narrative, though, was the strangely self-conscious moments scattered in the text.
one character says
"Look at all the Eastern writers who've written great Western literature. Kazuo Ishiguro. You'd never guess that The Remains of the Day or Never Let Me Go were written by a Japanese guy. But I can't think of anyone who's ever done the reverse-- any Westerner who's written great Eastern literature."
and the western face smiling out from the dust jacket all of a sudden has me wondering just how self-referential or aspirational this idea is.
in another moment, one of the few characters with unfortunately hidden depths says
"I was afraid you'd turn into one of those literary types who say books can change the world when they're feeling good about themselves and it’s only a book when anybody challenges them. It wasn't about the books themselves—it was about hypocrisy. You can speak casually about burning the Alf Yeom for the same reason you’d be horrified if I suggested burning The Satanic Verses—because you have reactions, not convictions.”
and while that's a fantastic, insightful, incredible thought, the recipient of this thought then goes on to think, "it sounded as though she'd rehearsed that idea and only now found a time to say it," sigh, apparently like the author herself just did. i most certainly don't want to be reminded periodically of the curtain, that there's a hand behind it scripting all these flames and flourishes. with a story this potentially incredible, i really wish Wilson had been a skilful enough author to get out of her own way....more
the first book in what I will assume to be several volumes is all about the set-up: these are the winged and antlered people this story is about, thesthe first book in what I will assume to be several volumes is all about the set-up: these are the winged and antlered people this story is about, these are the accidental or intentional circumstances of that story, this is their universe far far away, and this is how cracked-out crazy it's all going to be. for being mostly an intro, it's compelling enough that I stayed up late to read it in one go, but the biggest attraction is the art. the character design in here is constantly inventive and impressive, from a stubborn father's ram horns to a cat's saddle blanket to what's under an asssassin's dress. ...more
Miéville has an impossible-to-not-notice style to his writing: supply lines aren't simply cut, oh no, instead, the colons that shat goods into the citMiéville has an impossible-to-not-notice style to his writing: supply lines aren't simply cut, oh no, instead, the colons that shat goods into the city rupture. there's always little eruditely grotesque flourishes of his word choice and the images these words paint; some inanimate object will be breathing wetly in a corner, neologisms will abound, weird sex probably comes up somewhere. and occasionally, those flourishes get away from him and become the whole of the experience: it's not so much you're reading a story in a Miéville novel, it's that you're inhabiting a dark and organic dream world for some-hundred pages.
this one holds it all together very well. as in other Miéville dreamscapes, the ideas are more important than either characters or plot, but much less so than in previous books of his i've read, and wow, such ideas! the aliens here aren't 50s style BEMs with rayguns, they are actually, incomprehensibly alien. it's a whole story revolving around the idea of attempting to communicate with that which does not recognize you as doing so on a fundamental level. the problem itself is a grandiose idea, and the solutions worked out for it are even grander.
just a few short years after typical western TV was introduced to Fiji, a rather significant percentage of the women (especially the young ones) pickejust a few short years after typical western TV was introduced to Fiji, a rather significant percentage of the women (especially the young ones) picked up typical western body image depression and eating disorders:
this story lays a future tech veneer over the ideas of western cultural dominance, but ultimately, didn't say a whole lot beyond what the current state of things is here and now. it's a solid, but not amazing story.
the fist few chapters of 'everything is illuminated' are sprinkled with a comfortably earthy humor, and a lack of Important Srs Bznss that's rather rethe fist few chapters of 'everything is illuminated' are sprinkled with a comfortably earthy humor, and a lack of Important Srs Bznss that's rather refreshing for a much-lauded litfic sort of novel. the next (most of them) chapters run that earthy humor into the ground by becoming relentlessly charming shading on into twee, spiked with the inevitable srs bznss, being as how this is a book about searching for one's family post-Holocaust, after all.
jonathan safran foer (see? kinda twee right there) hires a guide team from a ukranian travel company to take him to the village he believes his grandfather fled from during WWII. parts of the novel are the (hilariously) poorly-translated POV chapters of his guide, part are the author/narrator's grandfather's tale leading up to WWII, and part are from the founding of the village 200 years previous. the timelines are supposed to echo and reflect on each other, on the meaning of love, and on the futility of something or other or all. occasional snippets of shining brilliance are bogged down in a morass of words that often come across like someone trying to be shiningly brilliant. there's a good novel in here, burdened with a bit too much Style to be elegant....more
"this is the book it is, which means it may not be the book you expect it to be. CRK"
she warned me about this right up front. even the blurb telling yo"this is the book it is, which means it may not be the book you expect it to be. CRK"
she warned me about this right up front. even the blurb telling you that this is the memoir of crazy India Phelps, that she may be seeing things and has trouble distinguishing which version of reality is factual, wasn't quite enough to get me in the right headspace for this. i'm not entirely sure you can be in the right headspace, unless your head is in the same space as Imp's, which is to say, crazy (her word, not mine).
the similarities between this and Kiernan's earlier The Red Tree are thick enough that i was convinced i was reading a riff on the same book for about half of this one's length. both are the first-person narratives of lesbian new-englander painters-who-sometimes-write that become haunted/obsessed with an eerie past event that's deeply steeped in local folklore. Kiernan's prose is amazing in both - the murky world of mental illness is rarely drawn so clear, and each narrative is peppered with Truths that didn't occur to me until they'd been said just that way. where 'the red tree' left me befuddled by the end, though, 'the drowning girl' had a transcendent section 3/4 of the way through that snapped things into sharp focus, and a far more relatable narrator.
it's a very difficult book, but the praise being heaped upon it is richly deserved. give yourself a quiet space and a nice long spell to sink into it....more