Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Iliad, Metamorphoses, God of Small Things

Lots of serious reading this week, which is always a nice feeling.

I got through the end of book 13 of the Iliad, which was just great. It's the kind of section that makes me glad to read it in Greek, a feeling that's all too rare in most of book 13. Most of the book is a lot of random fighting, without much memorable going on -- it's really there to set the Greeks up for the failures that will bring Achilles back into the fight. At the same time, Homer doesn't really want to show the Greeks being beaten by the Trojans (I guess his audience wouldn't have been very happy with sections like that; plus, he has to work within the mythological framework, in which none of the major Greek heroes perished in this part of the Trojan War).

But here, we have some magnificent similes, like the one which compares the Trojans to the surf -- gleaming white, and coming in wave after wave, and making noise, and all in two quick lines. We get some great speeches by Hector, and the speeches always sound good in the original; the swift dactylic line pushes the listener forward in a way you just can't get in English.

In Ovid, we get the epilog to the Phaethon story, in which his sisters mourn until they turn to trees, his lover Cygnus turns into a swan, then Sun (his father) returns to the sky, and everything returns to normal. It really does feel like an afterthought, after the long main story.

God of Small Things is a gorgeous novel by Arundhati Roy. It's very intricate, with a plot that literally revolves around a central event that's not revealed until the end. The chapters swirl around, some from before the event, some from after, but getting closer and closer until the final revelation. Roy puts in enough foreshadowing that the ending is not really a surprise, but little enough so that it's still shattering when it happens.

I was also blown away by her language. She's one of the few authors in my experience who writes from a child's perspective and makes it feel real. The only other example that I can think of is the opening parts of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Metamorphoses, Silence, Three Kingdoms, Queen and Country

I'm having a tough time mustering the interest to push through Three Kingdoms. A lot of the warring is very repetitive, and there isn't that much else there. It's not really fair to bring Aristotelian aesthetics to a discussion of a Chinese novel, but it's hard not to think of his discussion of the Greek poets who think that all you need to do to write an epic is to take the whole life story of some hero and throw it onto the page. No, says Aristotle, you need to trim it down, and focus on the story you want to tell. Three Kingdoms just wanders all over the place, which would make more sense if it were historically accurate, but apparently the author took liberties on that front as well.

I also read Thomas Perry's Silence this weekend. I think he's really jumped the shark -- the early Jane Whitefield novels are brilliant, but here he's just going through the motions. He's got a thing for a person who goes into hiding and completely changes his/her identity. But he's really struggling to come up with a motivation for it by now. Why would a woman go into hiding for 6 years, throwing away her whole life, instead of going to the police? Perry never really answers that question. The ending of the book suggests that he thought of it, but it was too late to change the novel, and so he gives a totally throw-away answer.

Saving the best for last, I also read more of the Metamorphoses this weekend, finishing up the story of Phaethon. There's not much to say about it, except that Ovid's word-play dazzles. I think he's my favorite Latin poet -- Catullus probably has my favorite individual lines, but I enjoy reading Ovid more on the whole.

I almost forgot Red Panda, the last (for a while) of the Queen and Country comics. Compared to the first Q & C book (which is reviewed somewhere in this blog), it was wonderful to see Tara's return to comics. The comic form really suits Rucka's talents, where you can have long stretches with no dialogue. Sometimes, three panels of two protagonists sitting near each other, saying nothing, can be incredibly eloquent. I'm still hoping that Patriot Games, the 2nd Q & C book is as good as the comics. Hope springs eternal, as they say...

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Winter of the Wolf Moon, Iliad, Invincible

I've read a few books in the loooong while since I last wrote in this blog. A whole bunch of Three Kingdoms, but I don't have much to say about it. I'll probably post more after I read the next 10 chapters.

After some posts on quartertothree.com, I decided to give Invincible a try. Essentially, it's working very similar territory to Astro City, playing with the concept of of superheroes, and a world in which there are many superheroes all flying around. There's a huge twist around issue 10, and, even knowing it was coming, I had no idea what it was going to be. But, after that, the book sort of lost its momentum. Our hero has just had his entire world collapse around him, and the next couple of issues present that really well. But then, life goes on, and it's not quite so good -- I guess I kept hoping for something with the impact of that "twist" issue, and there wasn't anything.

I'm reading more of book 13 of the Iliad, where there's some inconclusive back-and-forth between the Trojans and the Greeks. I'm actually quite enjoying it -- some nice Homeric similes, like one likening an arrow to beans been blown by a winnowing fan. In addition, we get some nice alliteration, and the way Homer switches back and forth between the combatants is really beautiful.

I read the second Alex McKnight book this weekend. Just like the first, the big climax is anti-climactic, though in a different way. Alex gets involved in a mob drug operation, and the mob boss kidnaps him to get some info. In a Robert Crais book, for example, this would lead to a huge showdown, lots of bullets flying. Instead, though, the mob boss just leaves him to freeze -- Alex is just too small-fry -- and that's the end of the confrontation. They go their separate ways, the mafia guy presumably goes on dealing, and that's it. Somehow, the book still feels satisfying, and certainly makes more sense than if Alex had been able to take down this top-level mafia guy.