notgettingenough 's Reviews > Northern Lights

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman
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May 21, 10

bookshelves: childrens

Later....A friend said to me today that if you read this book properly, it should make you a better person. I'd just earlier in the day been thinking pretty much the same thing. When I asked S. in what way was he made better, he said he couldn't say, just that it had. Exactly. I think you have a sense as you read this book that Lyra's goodness has rubbed off on you, she's made you better in an entirely non-specific way.

M. then said that she didn't think a book, to be special, necessarily had to have a moral impact, it could give you other terribly important things. For her to read the first Harry Potter was to be given back magic. And yes, an author, if he can return to you something you had lost and not even realised you had, has done something equally to be treasured.

I have promised to read HP soon. I find it difficult to believe I'm going to get anything out of it, but, then, thus had I felt about Northern Lights.

-------------------------------------------------

9.30 last night. I’m lying in bed, I’ve been reading this for a couple of hours, thinking I’m going to get it finished before I fall asleep. SMS: ‘Won by 3, be at the pub in ten minutes.’ And I’m so torn. I even think about bringing the book with me. In the end I go to the pub, get drunk, maybe came close to lucky, oh, but imagine the morning...having to play bridge at 9am on a Sunday on account of the time difference between the US and Australia. I didn’t see how it would work. He’d snuggle up and start saying how great the third time we fucked was, and I’d be like – is this Dave? Or Biff? Surely if I’d shagged somebody called Biff last night the name would stick, wouldn’t it? I’m not going to guess, I routinely fail 50%ers, so – sorry, mate (an Australianism will do here) but if you could find your way out, I have to play bridge in ten minutes. What’s that? This is YOUR place? I open my eyes more and take a better look around. Bugger. I have to play bridge in ten minutes and I don’t even know where I am.

So, I’m half way through my second vodka, completely drunk already, somebody’s saying I have a nice firm bosom – I don’t think it was Dave OR Biff – and I’m wishing, after all, I’d brought my book with me. I don’t really want to get lucky, I want to read my book.

And even though I haven’t finished it, I wanted to get something about it down.

I really didn’t want to read this. It’s fantasy, it has made-up words, it is a trilogy – WHY!!!!! Why can’t somebody write a fantasy book that stops at a decent time???? There is an explanation of how to pronounce ‘daemon’ before the book even starts and that’s enough to make my heart sink. So why am I reading it? Because I’ve been backed into a corner by a friend and I can’t figure out another way of getting out. Here it is then. A grumpy person reading a type of book they don’t want to read and are opening it up for all the wrong reasons.

And then…straight away, within a page or two: what a heart-thumper, what a brilliant unputdownable ripsnorter. Impossible not to compare with Larsson’s books, and comes out so far ahead on all counts I don’t know if I’ll be able to read the last Girl-Tattoo book after all.

This guy writes well, Larsson doesn’t. He has a plot that is worthy of the name for the entire book. When I wanted to stop reading the first Larsson after 140 pages and was told that it got good soon, well, honestly, I stuck with it and the advice was correct, but still. That’s a lot of wasted pages.

Larsson’s female character is a pastiche of current fashion:

(1) Anti-social
(2) Metal in odd places
(3) Punk rocker
(4) Shags girls, heterosexual male fantasy
(5) Shags much old men, ditto
(6) Boob job
(7) Computer whizz

Larsson gets away with this, even though this amalgam feels fake. Lyra needs nothing. She is just a girl with nothing special about her at all and she is fabulous. Already I’m wondering if this series is going to get spoiled by her growing up and sex coming into play. One of the things this book demonstrates is how utterly irrelevant and tedious the sex is in books like Larsson’s. It is just there to titillate, it has no intrinsic purpose whatsoever.

I’m gobsmacked by how much more believable this book is than Larsson’s. Daemons, talking bears, witches, universes coming out of universes – I’m half expecting a string theorist to pop into the story, but as long as that doesn’t happen I can’t imagine anything could spoil the rest of it. I’m trying to picture who wouldn’t enjoy this, and I’m coming up with a complete prune of a person. If I enjoy this, honestly, anybody would.

And yes, ladies and gentlemen, I’m even going to give the rest of the series a go.

--------------------

Finished! The last forty pages or so, after the duel of the bears, lost me. Maybe because they weren't really about the story, they are about setting the scene for the next book...I don't know. But I have to say that after 350 pages where every sentence made my heart beat too fast, I feel rather churlish saying that.
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Reading Progress

05/13/2010 page 1
0.25% "Grumble, grumble, grumble. Why are these books always part one of a trilogy. If you're lucky. And why daemon? Pronounced like demon, grrrr."
05/13/2010 page 30
7.52% "Wouldn't you just kill for this knack that Larsson has too? Writing that you can't put down. So you forgive daemon. Consider me sucked in."
05/13/2010 page 96
24.06% "Oh dear. Lyra finds out her true role as child procurer. And that her uncle is being held prisoner."
05/16/2010 page 215
53.88% "I can't believe I'm barracking for a bear."

Comments (showing 1-28 of 28) (28 new)

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Manny I’m half expecting a string theorist to pop into the story

Wow. Now that's what I call an inspired guess.


notgettingenough Manny wrote: "I’m half expecting a string theorist to pop into the story

Wow. Now that's what I call an inspired guess."


Oh dear. That was SUPPOSED to be a joke. You're not really saying...I mean, tell me you aren't....


Manny Oh dear. That was SUPPOSED to be a joke. You're not really saying...I mean, tell me you aren't...

I say no more. But if you're feeling really energetic, you could try going through my Quiz questions.


message 4: by C. (new) - rated it 4 stars

C. Wow. Now that's what I call an inspired guess.

My very first thought.


notgettingenough Sigh. Here I was thinking I'd take it to bed and maybe finish it tonight, when I'm being dragged off to the pub again, this time to watch Australia beat England in the 20-20 final. I just want to be alone with my book. Darn it.

Now that Choupette and Manny have brought string theorists into the situation, I'm so curious to find out how and why. Well, maybe we'll knock them off quickly and I can finish it when I get home....

Lyra, yes. I've decided to try to be like Lyra when I grow up. A friend took me for a long walk up a hill today and I ended up trying to be brave about it, instead of wondering to myself why on earth there is always twice as much uphill as downhill. One for string theorists, I dare say.


message 6: by Eric_W (new)

Eric_W Ah, shit. This review has now backed me into a corner. I wonder about Larsson, though. Perhaps Manny could help us here. Is the awkward prose his or the translator's.


Manny Larsson's original Swedish prose is, IMHO, very pleasant to read. I wouldn't call him a brilliant stylist or anything, but it's definitely not awkward. I haven't really looked at the English translations, so it's hard to compare.

In general, though, English translations of Swedish and Norwegian tend to come across as unnatural. Not quite sure why that is...


notgettingenough Elizabeth wrote: "Larsson's translator used words like "anon" and "alack." It made the English very awkward because it is supposed to be a contemporary novel and the translation is giving us eighteenth century poetr..."

Gee, I didn't notice that. I just thought it was wordy when it needn't be, like a Russian being paid by the word.

Elizabeth, can't remember where I should be writing this, in response to some comment you made about the Blind Assassin, but you should read my review of it. Possibly enlightening...


notgettingenough Manny wrote: "Larsson's original Swedish prose is, IMHO, very pleasant to read. I wouldn't call him a brilliant stylist or anything, but it's definitely not awkward. I haven't really looked at the English transl...In general, though, English translations of Swedish and Norwegian tend to come across as unnatural. Not quite sure why that is..."

I'm thinking now of The Seducer. It struck me as something we might as well call unnatural in style, but it never occurred to me that this was in the translation, I assumed it was fitting. If it's a tendency, doesn't that mean it because it needs to be? Ie is an appropriate rendering?


notgettingenough Eric_W wrote: "Ah, shit. This review has now backed me into a corner. I wonder about Larsson, though. Perhaps Manny could help us here. Is the awkward prose his or the translator's."

Eric, Why have you been backed into a corner? I'm dying to know.


Pavel I have zero intentions to read Larsson's books in the next 2 or 3 years because too many idiots around me do and such a neurotic as I am is always has to differ from them, BUT I always wanted to read Pulman books and you actually gave me a nudge.


message 12: by Eric_W (new)

Eric_W notgettingenough wrote: "Eric_W wrote: "Ah, shit. This review has now backed me into a corner. I wonder about Larsson, though. Perhaps Manny could help us here. Is the awkward prose his or the translator's."

Eric, Why h..."


It was a reference in your review to your being backed into a corner ("Because I’ve been backed into a corner by a friend and I can’t figure out another way of getting out.") It was an oblique compliment to your wonderful review and how now I will just have to read Pullman. I used to have friends tell me I needed to stick a sign on my forehead when I was making a joke because nobody ever got them. :)


notgettingenough Eric_W wrote: "notgettingenough wrote: "Eric_W wrote: "Ah, shit. This review has now backed me into a corner. I wonder about Larsson, though. Perhaps Manny could help us here. Is the awkward prose his or the tr..."

Oh, no, I've asked somebody to explain his joke. I'm sorry. Just not very bright today.


message 14: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell Eric_W wrote: "Ah, shit. This review has now backed me into a corner. I wonder about Larsson, though. Perhaps Manny could help us here. Is the awkward prose his or the translator's."

It's not the translator's fault, the publisher messed it up - they made it a lot more awkward and stuck in Britishisms.


message 15: by C. (new) - rated it 4 stars

C. I thought the English translation of The Seducer wasn't so much awkward as 'Norwegian', which made it seem a little 'off' in English. It took some getting used to.


message 16: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell Elizabeth wrote: "Larsson's translator used words like "anon" and "alack."

That was actually the publisher's fault! The poor translator gets the blame. It's this guy - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_T... I saw an interview with him once (now can't find it, natch) where he talked about how Larsson was a big genre fan and had Americanisms in the books, and the publisher changed it. (There's this, but it's hard to tell if that's him, and this brief interview, altho the one I had in mind was longer.)


message 17: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell Elizabeth wrote: "Didn't the translator use a pseudonym because it was so bad?"

Yeah - it's in that interview I just linked to, he took his name off it because for one thing the publisher didn't let him go through all three books before they came out.


notgettingenough Choupette wrote: "I thought the English translation of The Seducer wasn't so much awkward as 'Norwegian', which made it seem a little 'off' in English. It took some getting used to."

Exactly as I thought too.


message 19: by Paul (new) - rated it 2 stars

Paul Oh shit, I read thirty pages of this and threw it at the wall. Now I feel like Prune Man.


notgettingenough Paul wrote: "Oh shit, I read thirty pages of this and threw it at the wall. Now I feel like Prune Man."

Prune indeed. Sorry, but if I can like it then...you know...


notgettingenough Paul wrote: "Oh shit, I read thirty pages of this and threw it at the wall. Now I feel like Prune Man."

PS: Did you donate it to Oxfam?


message 22: by notgettingenough (last edited May 24, 2010 08:42AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

notgettingenough In the cold hard light of day I'm wondering what I meant by all that pontificating about being a better person.

Reviews the following day carefully. Okay. It's true, I did open a packet of Kettle chips and then not finish them - an all but saintly act of supreme discipline in my book. But to be perfectly truthful that's because when I went out to the kitchen to knock them off an hour later, some other %^@#$( bastard had got there first.)

Reviews the day further. Nup. That's pretty much it, actually. And I just don't think it's good enough to permit sanctimonious sermons on characters improving one's character. So to speak. The more so since I didn't just leave it at that. I opened up a packet of horridly flavoured chips instead. You know the ones. Rogan Josh and cucumber raita flavoured chips. Honestly. I want my chips to be potato flavoured. If I'm after a curry I'll cook one.


message 23: by Paul (last edited May 23, 2010 03:06AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Paul We all had a curry last night as my pal Aslam came round for a jolly evening. Eleanor (our house guest) got to meet him for the first time having only spoken on the phone previously and mistook him for an insurance salesman. The conversation for a reason I disremember gravitated very swiftly towards toilet behaviour, men vs. woman - should the seat be left up, why some gentlemen don't realise they spray all over the floor, etc etc.


Gabbo Parra Two years later I found your review and just loved it. I'm about to finish Book One and I'm feeling the becoming-better-thingy powerfully nudging me.


Whitney Canales Excellent review! This makes me excited too read the rest.


Whitney Canales to* ...I know how to spell. :)


message 27: by Angela (new) - added it

Angela I have to beg to differ about this being "Christian Literature".
Philip Pullman is a well-known and outspoken Atheist Agnostic. Read properly this book supports a Naturalist or Scientific world view, despite the fact that it is set in a fantasy world contAining daimons, witches, and talking. Bears. That is the sense in which it is allegorical. I believe the person who wrote of this as "Christian Literature" is mistaking that allegorical framework as Christian, when certainly allegory as a rhetoric predates Christianity by many thousands of years.
In that way it 's akin to the Narnia books. But it 'a fundamental ideological thrust is naturalist, and ultimately supports a random universe.
The Church, you must allow, is in fact the great Villain in this world; It's adherents full of hypocrisy, greed, ambition and vice.
No, I'm sorry. I am an atheist agnostic, the most representatively scientific approach to supernaturalism. I'm afraid Phillip Pullman and "His Dark Materials" is wholly ours!
Read "The Good Man Jesus", if you want to hear him deconstruct Christianity allegorically.
He 's truly brilliant, and such literary brilliance can be arcane in a literalist world.
@Whitney Canales- I. think we are all familiar with the twin evils of autocorrect and computer memory dependency that create these errors, do rest assured! lol


message 28: by Angela (new) - added it

Angela It is the nature of English to be the most modern of languages, like German, and in an even more openly acquisitive way, English is far more amenable to changes and additions to include modern concepts and vernacular as an ongoing enterprise than most modern languages.
This may be part of what is "lost in translation" into English even more than other languages, and the reason English has a so vastly larger vocabulary than any other language. I'm sure this lends itself to direct translations from other languages seeming "archaic" to English readers. We haven't heard any real person say "Alack!" with any seriousness since the early part of the last century. Apparently in Sweden and Norway they are alacking away on a daily basis. Surprising that in many other ways they are more modern than the English- speaking world. I enjoy the Swedish writer, John Ajvide Lindqvust, author of Let Me In, and I. suspect that is partly due to the excellence of the translation of his work into English, which I found masterful.


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