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Living Next Door to the God of Love
Book Club > Living Next Door to the God of Love

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message 1: by Amy (last edited Jun 10, 2016 04:40PM) (new)

Amy | 36 comments Mod
Not too long ago, a friend told me, in no uncertain terms, that I had selected Justina Robson’s least accessible work for this book club. “But,” I cried, full of woe, “It’s about the god of love! Living next door to the god of love!” She was unmoved.

And so, with no small amount of trepidation, I began Living Next Door to the God of Love.

And many, many days later, with no small amount of confusion, I finished Living Next Door to the God of Love.

Things started out so well. Robson’s first chapter is killer: so smart and fast that it’s almost a dare. It’s dangerous, complicated, bleeding-edge speculative fiction, with a main character who is instantly fascinating and stakes that are instantly apparent. It pulls you in, sucks you down, and makes you think, "Wait, what the hell is happening?!”

I loved that first chapter. I loved that first chapter more than anything else I have read this year.

It was the second chapter where the wheels started to wobble.

In the first chapter, I was blissfully unaware. First chapters always let me live in a beautiful utopia where the book will only ever have a single point-of-view character – and will have to convince me to care about only a single point-of-view character. When a book adds more point-of-view characters, I often end up not caring about any of them.

The second chapter of Living Next Door to the God of Love introduces a second point-of-view character. A third shows up not long after. And then more. They are all (maybe almost all) in the first person.

And that is only the beginning.

This book has stories to spare. There’s a lot of plot – and subplot upon subplot. It’s a complicated, complex endeavor, for both author and reader. If you like a good rabbit hole, Robson has them in spades.

Robson’s world-building is a tour de force, several times over. But that same world-building is frequently rough on the reader, with sudden scenery shifts and incomprehensible tech.

Then there’s the jargon. Robson is quite happy to make a noun proper with no explanation. Sometimes that works – sometimes the meaning is intuitive or the context is sufficient – but often, it leaves the reader floundering, trying to figure out a key component of a sentence or plot point without enough guidance. As I understand it, much of this stuff (fellow readers will get the inexcusable pun) is explained in another book – Natural History – that is not a prequel, but should apparently be a prerequisite.

Despite – and sometimes because of – all that, there are lots of things to like about Living Next Door to the God of Love: A killer opening. Unbelievably skillful, detailed world-building. Writing that is both rich and careful. Fully realized characters. Universe-level themes of love and humanity and society.

So, for those of you who are interested: Living Next Door to the God of Love takes place in multiple worlds, all of them impossibly different. Jalaeka, the current incarnation of the god of love, has been many things, each stranger than the last, but what they need to be now is something that can fight a creator of worlds. Francine, a runaway, is looking for love, one might say, in all the wrong places. And as you might expect, gods are about to collide. BOOM.

Also, trigger warning for rape and violence.


message 2: by Francesca (new)

Francesca Forrest (asakiyume) | 5 comments Wow! Intriguing.

message 3: by thistle (new)

thistle (tigrey) | 10 comments I've read Robson's Mappa Mundi and meant after it to read Natural History . . . after which I forgot to follow up with this one. It keeps sounding interesting. One day there will be enough time!

message 4: by S. R. (last edited Jun 27, 2016 01:13PM) (new) - added it

S. R. | 1 comments Mod
Robson is among my most favorite writers for one very specific reason: I have never once guessed where one of her stories was going.

Every one of them has deeply surprised me in some way, and made me stop and think hard about what I'd just read, and wonder how much else I'd missed. (I don't know that I can say that about any other author I've read regularly in the last decade or so, though I'm eyeing Ninefox Gambit right now and thinking Yoon Ha Lee might join Robson and Joanna Russ and Nalo Hopkinson on that list.) I often wonder how widely read Robson's earlier books were, because I see plenty of new work that reads to me as derivative of them, but I am not sure if that is influence or just the rest of the world catching up to her.

Robson takes risks with her characters, and her plots, and her settings, all at once, and sometimes is more successful with that than other times. I am often careful about recommending her books because the reasons I love them are often the same things that turn other people off: I like rabbit-holes, and wildly unpredictable narratives with varying degrees of resolution, characters with complicated relationships of all kinds (friends, families, coworkers, lovers, competitors) and a willingness to be both ruthlessly practical and wildly inventive at the same time. The Quantum Gravity books are a total mash of genres and are all over the place thematically and narratively and are by turns light-hearted fun and heartbreaking and meditative and mean. The MC is a cyborg who can't entirely control her weaponry and isn't sure she wants to, and is married to an elf and a demon and takes her job seriously. I mean really. It's like it was written for me.

That said, Living Next Door to the God of Love is my least favorite of Robson's novels for all that it has the best title. The POV shifts that make it hard to connect to any particular character. And, for all of the wild subplots and tangents and side stories... not a whole lot actually happens. I think reading NH first adds a depth and a certain sense of impending doom to GOL that makes it a more satisfying read, at the end. It *almost* works, and I Iiked the book for what it attempted. But Natural History was better.

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