Scott's Reviews > Fool on the Hill

Fool on the Hill by Matt Ruff
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Sep 15, 09

bookshelves: in-my-library

This was Ruff's debut novel, and the third of his four novels (up to this point) that I have read. From Publishers Weekly via Amazon.Com, here is part of their review as a description:

This exuberant first novel unfolds at Cornell University, the alma mater of its 22-year-old author, who has re-imagined his school as the center of a violent and funny modern-day fairy tale. Stephen Titus George is a young writer longing for true love and a great story to tell. With the mysterious appearance of Calliope, a sorceress who can transform herself into anyone's vision of female perfection, both of his dreams begin to come true. Ruff shapes an adventure for his protagonist that includes everything from poisoned apples to winged dragons, all set on a campus where there isn't a professor in sight and where the actions of dogs, cats and invisible sprites are as meaningful as those of the students.


One of the most interesting things about Ruff's work is the diversity. Each of these three books has been different. And though none of them have hit a home run for me, they are all solid base hits. Might even call one or two of them a double. (Sorry, but I started a baseball analogy with my last review of his work.)

One of the downfalls of this book is too many characters and a weak finish.

First the characters. Like I just said, there are a lot of them. Many, many of them. Some of them are dogs and one is a cat. Many of them get lost in the shuffle. Many of them seem important, only to disappear and not be heard from again. Some of the characters are missed at the end. Some of them could have been written out. The amount of characters didn't hurt the overall product, but certainly didn't help it.

The finish became a jumble of things, many story lines culminating into one big finish. It was tough understanding some of it, especially the reasons why. But there was still some satisfaction. What hurt it though was an outstanding beginning. Halfway through the book I was in "don't-want-to-put-it-down" mode. By the end I wasn't rushing to grab the book to finish. Still found myself wanting to finish, but it wasn't something I kept looking for any spare minute to read it.

There is a lot of appeal to this book. Even though all of Ruff's novels are different, they also bring in elements from many different genres. Not huge chunks where it really mixes it up. Just enough to keep it from being mundane. Some of his ideas and characters in this book remind me of something Pratchett might have written. It's not a rip off of his style or ideas, but more of a homage, an obvious influence, but still well enough of his own work.

Also, what is interesting, is that his writing style has become more to the point. His prose was stronger in this novel then the two other novels I read. So with this being his debut novel, that means he stepped back. Given the nature of those two novels, I think it shows an author well in control of what he is doing. This story gave him the room to use more poetic/flowery prose. It would not have worked at all with his latest novel "Bad Monkeys". I see this as a good sign from an author, who understands how to craft a story and not let his prose chops get in the way.

It ranks as a well written book, especially for a debut. An interesting fact too, is that this was published when he was 23 years old. Ruff has become an author that I will continue to read his books as they come out, and will probably be recommending them more to others as well.
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