Friday, April 24, 2009

Northanger Abbey, Fatal Reunion

This past weekend, I listened to Austen's Northanger Abbey and read Penelope Evans' Fatal Reunion.

Northanger Abbey was the one Austen book I've never read (although I've never actually finished Mansfield Park), and I rather enjoyed it. There wouldn't be much more to say about it than that, except that I see these puzzling mentions here & there that it's one of best works. I can only think that critics write such things in order to be contrarian -- Northanger is nowhere near the level of interest of Emma or Pride and Prejudice. The heroine, Catherine, doesn't have the kind of interplay with her love interest that Emma or Lizzie have. Even worse, Austen throws in little essays in defense of novels, which, as funny as they are, bring the whole story to a halt. One can't help thinking that the mature Austen would never have done such a thing.

Evans' previous novels have been about people in strange psychological states. Freezing, for example, was about an autistic (schizophrenic?) photographer. Fatal Reunion starts with a fairly normal guy, and then builds up the stress on him. We see him slowly becoming more paranoid and less able to function. I wasn't thrilled with the end of the story, in which everything seems to snap back to normal. But I was puzzled by the end of the book, which implies that the whole novel was a writing exercise by the main character.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Naming of the Dead, Needful Things, The Gods of Pegana

I just got a kindle for my birthday, and one of the things I'm most excited about is the availability of books that are hard to find -- among them, Lord Dunsany's short stories (all free!). So, to celebrate, I downloaded 4 of his books, and started with The Gods of Pegana.

It's less a collection of short stories than an outline for a mythology -- there's a theogony, a bunch of vignettes about human prophets, and an end-of-things. All in all, it wasn't really something I'd want to read more of, but I enjoyed the book. It probably helped that it's a relatively slim book at 104 pages, and none of the vignettes is more than a couple of pages long. It's also a sign of how much fantasy has changed -- I can't even imagine a book like this being published now.

Meanwhile, I listened to Stephen King's Needful Things on the iPod. It was a 3-for-2 deal, and I liked the other two very much, so I wasn't too upset that this book was only OK. The problem was that the antagonist is so powerful, that most of the novel is fairly predictable -- things are going to go in the worst possible way for everyone involved, that there isn't really a sense of suspense, just a cringing at what we know is coming.

Over the holiday, I finished reading Rankin's Naming of the Dead, the second-to-last Rebus novel. The mystery was no great shakes -- the ending was almost anti-climactic. But it was one of my favorite Rebus novels, anyway. It had such a feeling of place, and such a strong sense of what drives Rebus, that these things overcame the weakness of the central plot.