Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Exercises in Style, Lirael, Magic for Beginners

Exercises in Style is an interesting idea.  Queneau has taken a short anecdote about an altercation on a bus and re-written it in 99 different styles, from operatic to mathematical.  Some of them are funny, or make a good point about how the style influences what we're reading, but I felt like there were just too many of them.  Aside from the completely pointless ones (like a couple where he just scrambles the letters), there were a few where the style so far obscures the anecdote that one can't really draw anything useful from it.  (For instance, one style replaces everything with a reference from flowers, but what results is just confusing, not funny).

The other problem, though, is that I felt that it's a re-hash of Ulysses's "Oxen of the Sun" or "Cyclops" episodes, with their multiplicity of styles.  Joyce shows us how the style of narration can enhance or confuse our sense of what's going on, just as Queneau did, but the Ulysses episodes also feel like they're part of a greater whole, not just exercises in style.  In the end, Exercises is more of a curiosity than a book to learn from.

Lirael is Garth Nix's followup to Sabriel, which I enjoyed very much.  Unfortunately, I thought Lirael was much weaker (though still good).  I think that both novels are approaches to coming-of-age novels, but Sabriel is much less explicit.  Sabriel is thrown into a world where all of the rules that she's used to have changed, but everyone expects her to know them anyway, and I think this is an interesting metaphor for becoming a teenager, although Nix never makes it explicit.  In Lirael, we get the story of two people in their early teens, and there's a fair amount of "nobody understands me/I have unique problems" moaning.

By the end of the novel, the two protagonists have just gotten past this stage, and I'm hoping that Lirael returns to being as strong as Abhorsen.

I read most of Kelly Link's Magic for Beginners a while ago, and enjoyed it a lot.  Link has a unique voice, where most of the fantasy happens off-screen, or sometimes not even within the confines of the story itself.  But the e-book version (which is what I read) was missing two stories, the title story "Magic for Beginners" and "The Faery Handbag."  Both of these illustrate what I'm talking about; in the first story, whatever magic there is happens before the story starts, and to the protagonist's boyfriend, not to the protagonist herself.  In the second one, it's not at all clear what's going on with the fantasy element, even by the end of the story (I don't want to be more explicit, because I think that one of the joys of reading Link's stories is how each one goes off in unexpected directions).

I ended up buying the book in hardcover just to get those two stories, and all I can say is that it was completely worth it.

No comments: