Sally Howes's Reviews > The Slow Regard of Silent Things

The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss
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it was amazing
bookshelves: book-vipers-magic-square-2014, owned-read, read-fantasy, reviewed

THE SLOW REGARD OF SILENT THINGS will say something different to every reader. To me it says not only that nothing is ever quite what it seems to be, it says that everything is so much more than it appears. And it says that being broken doesn't mean you're not also perfect. It reminds me very much of one of my all-time favorite quotes, from Hemingway's A FAREWELL TO ARMS: "The world breaks everyone, and afterward, many are strong at the broken places."

There are two things that are very important to know about this book, both of which I know were of nail-biting concern to the author. The first is a major caveat: If you have not read Patrick Rothfuss's other books, or at least the first book in his Kingkiller Chronicle, THE NAME OF THE WIND, you really should not attempt THE SLOW REGARD OF SILENT THINGS, as it will be almost impossible to understand. It is very hard for me to discourage anyone from reading any of Rothfuss's work, as I am a huge fan of his, but this warning is important, and one that the author himself gives in a foreword to the book. THE SLOW REGARD OF SILENT THINGS was written for fans of the Kingkiller Chronicle and assumes knowledge of the characters and the world they live in.

However, for anyone who wants to ignore this warning, I'll offer a brief explanation. The main protagonist of the Kingkiller Chronicle is Kvothe, who is, among other things, a student at "the University." This university teaches the usual subjects, like chemistry and linguistics ... plus the odd bit of artificing, sigildry, alchemy, and sympathy, which we would collectively term "magic." The pressure the University places on its students in terms of workload plus the complexity and power of its knowledge produces a high rate of attrition - which in this case means not only that a lot of students "drop out" but also that a lot "crack up." Auri, the main protagonist of THE SLOW REGARD OF SILENT THINGS, is one of the latter. She has fled to what she calls "the Underthing" - the drains, tunnels, forgotten rooms, and catacombs underneath the University - shunning any contact with humans and hiding away like the most timid of wild animals. As well as being a student, Kvothe is a talented musician, and his music eventually lured Auri to him and forged a firm friendship between them. Despite living what most people would call a pitiable life, Auri seems busy and happy with her lot, spending her time scavenging and arranging everything in the Underthing "just so." And she has a gift few possess - the ability to see the hidden value and beauty in the most mundane of everyday objects. And so, if you are determined on experiencing THE SLOW REGARD OF SILENT THINGS without first knowing THE NAME OF THE WIND, this is perhaps enough information to begin with.

The other important thing to know about THE SLOW REGARD OF SILENT THINGS is that it is most emphatically NOT your typical novel, or even your typical novella. Again, Rothfuss himself has admitted with some trepidation that he has done here a lot of things that should not work in a story and few things that are expected. And speaking of admissions, I will admit that I spent the first half of the book feeling enchanted but slightly bewildered by Auri's story. But at the halfway point, my eyes suddenly opened and I began to see the layers upon layers of complexity hidden beneath the fairytale, childlike veneer. And then all I had room to feel was awe and gratitude. Of the hundreds of stories I have read so far, this is the one that made me feel like it was written not just for me but about me: one of the broken people.

THE SLOW REGARD OF SILENT THINGS chronicles one week, day by day, in which Auri is preparing for her next visit from Kvothe. Does a week sound like plenty of time to prepare for the coming of a friend? Well, it might be for you, but for Auri it is only just enough time to get the Underthing perfect for a visit from this brave, broken man who means so much to her. Each day is crammed with busy activity as she prepares herself and her home to receive her esteemed guest. Much of this activity centers on finding a place for every one of Auri's treasured objects, and everything in its place. I have never met anyone who is as good as Auri is at focusing my mind on everyday objects in unusual ways. Unusual at the very least. In a deep way, Auri instinctively understands commonplace magic and everyday miracles. How silly it would be to think that objects don't have souls just like people do. Auri understands how all her fellow waifs and strays feel, whether they are human or not. For example: "The key needed urgent tending. It was for certain the most restless of the lot. This wasn't even a slim sliver of surprise. Keys were hardly known for their complacency, and this one was near howling for a lock. Auri picked it up and turned it in her hands. A door key. It wasn't shy about the fact at all." And another time: "In Van she was startled to find the mirror was unsettled. Anxious even ... [I]t was the sort of thing only a fool would willfully ignore. And Auri was no fool." As well as drawing my attention to the souls of common objects, Auri shares her deep knowledge of and regard for light in all its manifestations. She is the sun and she controls the shadows.

In the books of the Kingkiller Chronicle, I vaguely sensed that the Underthing was not merely a place but almost a living thing. Well, THE SLOW REGARD OF SILENT THINGS proves me abundantly right, as the Underthing responds to Auri's every whim in delightful, characterful ways. "It was hers, and the place loved her, and she fit here like a pea in her own perfect pod." The Underthing truly is alive, and Auri knows its moods intimately - she knows when a pipe is easily offended, she knows when a door is eager to be opened, she knows when a wall is being slightly condescending. "The Twelve was one of the rare changing places of the Underthing. It was wise enough to know itself, and brave enough to BE itself, and wild enough to change itself, while somehow staying altogether true. It was nearly unique in this regard, and while it was not always safe or kind, Auri could not help but feel a fondness for it."

The world of the Kingkiller Chronicle (a world, according to this new book, called "Temerant") is obsessed with the names of things, but little does it know that there is a young woman living underneath the University who is all but a master namer herself, or at least Master Elodin's kindred spirit. For while Auri knows the names of all the different rooms of the Underthing, it is not because she has named them but because she has listened when they have told her what their names are. "Some places had names. Some places changed, or they were shy about their names. Some places had no names at all, and that was always sad. It was one thing to be private. But to have no name at all? How horrible. How lonely." Auri herself received her name from Kvothe, who named her for the sun, this elfin, golden-haired girl full of light, and this name may be her most precious possession of all. She has to intermittently check that it is still inside her, for if it is not, nothing can be right in her world: "She felt around inside herself for her true perfect name and though it took a long and lonesome moment, finally she felt it there. It was shivery and scant. Scared. Skint. But just around the edges it was still scintillant. It was still hers. It shone."

Rothfuss has the most charming way of turning our own cliches around on us, so that Auri doesn't have butterflies in her stomach but tiny fish. This is one of the most simple illustrations of Rothfuss's mastery of language and almost alchemical power to shape it to his will. "The slow regard of silent things" simply means "patience." In this way, through Auri, Rothfuss finally made me understand the magic he weaves around words, the magic that has been hiding in words all the time. By making more of them than they usually are, by approaching them laterally, from odd angles and under odd falls of light, he shows that words are their own kaleidoscopes, not our narrow-sighted microscopes. Their potential for beauty is limitless. I feel like this is one important part of the answer I've been searching for, and I found it in the most unexpected place - a place that is "... crickly with heat." A place in which "He was emberant. Incarnadine." A place in which "... the gear was nowhere near as shimmerant as it had been before." A place in which "... the prickly chimbleys of Crucible, and winged Mews [are] all full of flickerlight."

One of my peculiar character traits is that whimsy can make me feel slightly tipsy, which means that spending so much time with Auri in THE SLOW REGARD OF SILENT THINGS left me feeling positively intoxicated. The good news, however, is that the hangover that follows such intoxication consists only of lighter spirits and a tendency to break into a grin for no apparent reason. Whenever I'm around Auri, laughter bubbles just below my surface, never more so than when faced with the juxtaposition of her neat primness against her occasional forays into mild bawdiness, such as when she is bathing her "nekkid self" in general and her "tender altogether hindmost self" in particular. It is a beautiful thing to see Auri revel in her own fairy-like beauty: "Heading back, she went through Vaults for a change of air. Running down the hall, she sprang over the first deep fissure in the broken floor as lithely as a dancer. The second crack she leapt as lightly as a bird. The third she jumped as wildly as a pretty girl who looked like the sun."

If Auri were some kind of goddess or fairy, which doesn't feel entirely unlikely, her realm and sphere of influence would be that of propriety - both personal and keeping everything in its proper place - and consideration, both in terms of kindness to all creatures, places, and things, and in terms of deep and earnest thought, especially about the consequences of one's actions and doing the right thing: "She wasn't one for rucking things about. She stepped the way the water moves within a gentle wave. Never mind the motion, the water stays unchanged. That was the proper way of things." But it is important to realize that Auri is so proper not because she is a prude but because she wants everything to be beautiful and happy: "It was better to be gentle and polite. It was the worst sort of selfishness to force yourself upon the world." For Auri, perfection is joy and imperfection is a terrible thing to contemplate: "Auri shivered at the thought of moving through a joyless world like that. Nothing perfect. Nothing beautiful and true. Oh no. She was too wise to live that way. Auri looked around and smiled at all her luxury. She had a perfect loving leaf and lavender. She wore her favorite dress. Her name was Auri, and it was a shining piece of gold inside her all the time." With a hint at something more sinister, we learn that Auri finds not only beauty in perfection but safety, too: "You did not want things for yourself. That made you small. That kept you safe. That meant you could move smoothly through the world without upsetting every applecart you came across. And if you were careful, if you were a proper part of things, then you could help. You mended what was cracked. You tended to the things you found askew. And you trusted that the world in turn would brush you up against the chance to eat. It was the only graceful way to move. All else was vanity and pride."

As mentioned previously, it took me fully half the book before I realized that there was so much more to it than whimsical, cheerful charm. "[Auri] knew the true shape of the world. All else was shadow and the sound of distant drums." The light that shines from Auri is so dazzling that it takes a while to notice the shadows it conceals, but they are there: the constant struggle to make order from chaos; the fear that maybe there just isn't a perfect place for everything and everyone; the guilt at work left undone and perhaps people disappointed; and, especially, the loneliness and maybe, just maybe, unrequited love. This is initially expressed in terms of the feelings of her treasured objects, but the implications for her own psyche are obvious: "On her way back she wandered through Port to check on the blanket. It seemed to be doing well, but she brought the hollybottle over to keep it company too, just in case. It was a terrible thing to be lonely." Auri has her bad days, just like any of the broken people, and she has the dark moods that accompany them: "She thought that she might cry, but when she felt around inside herself she found she had no crying left. She was full of broken glass and burrs. She was weary and disappointed with all of everything."

The second half of the book also gives the most faintly whispered hints about what drove Auri into the Underthing in the first place. In her heart, Auri knows that she is not as she should be: "She felt the panic rising in her then. She knew. She knew how quickly things could break. You did the things you could. You tended to the world for the world's sake. You hoped you would be safe. But still she knew. It could come crashing down and there was nothing you could do. And yes. She knew she wasn't right. She knew her everything was canted wrong. She knew her head was all unkilter. She knew she wasn't true inside. She knew." I may be wrong, but I read violence and possibly abuse into these hints about what horrors chased Auri into the Underthing: "She knew already. She knew of red. She'd had enough of screaming." It seems that Auri is obsessed with order because she knows the catastrophes that can come with a misstep in life: "She should have moved more gently with the world. She knew the way of things. She knew if you weren't always stepping lightly as a bird the whole world came apart to crush you. Like a house of cards. Like a bottle against stones. Like a wrist pinned hard beneath a hand with the hot breath smell of want and wine ..." I've read many books that I thought had hidden depths, but possibly none more so than this one, both in terms of how deep those depths are and how hidden.

If you asked Auri, she would tell you her days are busy and happy with her work of ordering the Underthing as it is meant to be ... But I can't help thinking this is really a story about friendship and its redemptive power in a lost and lonely life. A broken brass gear signifies love to Auri, and it becomes her anchor when turmoil threatens to overwhelm her. It is not really the signifier that anchors her, though, it is the signified. It is not a big brazen gear that anchors her, it is love. The second half of the book in particular will give fans of the Kingkiller Chronicle the occasional little thrill of insight into Auri's relationship with Kvothe, how much he means to her, and why. She has a deep understanding of him, such as is rare even between friends: "He was plum full of anger and despair. And pride ... well, he had that in a sure and certain surfeit." Auri's tenderness toward Kvothe is something I found very moving: "He would be here soon, all sweet and brave and shattered and kind. He would come carrying and clever-fingered and oh so unaware of oh so many things. He was rough against the world but even so ..." It is clear that although Auri and Kvothe are very different in many ways, their friendship is based on what they have in common: "Soon he would come visiting. Incarnadine and sweet and sad and broken. Just like her." The little insight we are given into what Auri's life has been like before and after meeting Kvothe is brief but profound: "It had been like this before sometimes. Not for a long time now, but she remembered. She had been sitting like this, empty as eggshell. Hollow and chest-heavy in the angry dark when she'd first heard him playing. Back before he'd given her her sweet new perfect name. A piece of sun that never left her. It was a bite of bread. A flower in her heart." It seems that Auri is willing and able to be fierce for Kvothe's sake in a way she never could be for herself: "But for him it was a different thing entire. For him she would bring forth all her desire. She would call up all her cunning and her craft. Then she would make a name for him." If you have ever experienced devotion like that, you may begin to understand just how deep Auri's feelings for Kvothe run.

I honestly can do no better than to end with reference to Patrick Rothfuss's author's note at the end of THE SLOW REGARD OF SILENT THINGS. In it, he explains how unconventional Auri's novella is, and it certainly is that. Audaciously, beautifully, perfectly unconventional. He has taken enormous risks with this book, as brave and brazen as Kvothe or the big brass gear. But because Patrick Rothfuss is a master storyteller, those risks pay off a thousandfold. And because of his empathy for his audience, so poignantly expressed in his author's note, Auri's story will mean as much to many other people as it does to me:

"This story is for all the slightly broken people out there.

I am one of you. You are not alone. You are all beautiful to me.

Pat Rothfuss

June, 2014."

And here's one extra bit of unconventionality that I bet even Mr. Rothfuss wouldn't expect: Books occasionally make me cry, but this is the first time in my life an author's note has made me cry. I would just like to say this to Pat Rothfuss: From all the broken people in the world, thank you.
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Reading Progress

May 31, 2014 – Shelved
May 31, 2014 – Shelved as: to-read
October 31, 2014 – Started Reading
October 31, 2014 –
page 24
November 1, 2014 –
page 64
November 2, 2014 –
page 127
November 3, 2014 – Shelved as: book-vipers-magic-square-2014
November 3, 2014 – Shelved as: owned-read
November 3, 2014 – Shelved as: read-fantasy
November 3, 2014 – Finished Reading
November 27, 2014 – Shelved as: reviewed

Comments Showing 1-5 of 5 (5 new)

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Phrynne Beautiful review Sally. I loved the book too.

B the BookAddict An amazing heartfelt review; loved it, Sally. Might have to get myself into this author.

Carolyn Wonderful review Sally. I've been putting off buying this but I will order it today! I have read the Kvothe books and think he is an amazing writer.

Sally Howes Thank you, ladies :-)

Bette, The Name of the Wind is the place to start, and it's THE book I've been recommending to everyone I know ever since I first read it earlier this year. I know you're not into fantasy much, but I call these books 'literary fantasy' and keep them on my literary fiction shelf rather than my fantasy shelf. They really are that good, especially in terms of character development and often beautiful language.

Tracy The author's note made me cry too. And the lovely, lovely words.

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