Thursday, August 11, 2011

Striking Back, Raw Shark Texts, White Night

From simplest to more complex...

Mark Nykanen's Striking Back is a pretty straightforward thriller/mystery.  Nykanen does a good job keeping you guessing at the identity of the killer, and his heroine's backstory is well-handled.  On the other hand, there's nothing really outstanding about it either.

White Night is the ninth Harry Dresden novel.  For a change, Butcher closes off more story lines than he opens.  I thought his handling of the Lashiel story-line was surprisingly good.  In retrospect, it should've been obvious what was coming; she's a character that's hard to work with.  She's immensely powerful, but is trying to corrupt Dresden at every turn.  The problem is that he's resisted her for so long, one begins to suspect that she's not actually very good at corrupting him.

Still, it was nice to see Butcher rounding out her character; he does the same with "Gentleman" Johnny Marcone, who had disappeared for a while.  Butcher's writing has improved in the meantime, and Marcone shows more humanity in his few scenes than in the earlier books in which he's a major player.

Highest on the complexity scale this time around is definitely Steven Hall's Raw Shark Texts, one of those complex, game-playing post-modern novels, in the same vein as Danielewski's House of Leaves.  I liked this one more than many such books, because there's an emotional core to the novel; it's not just an endless round of navel-gazing.  Although one can spend time trying to puzzle out the negatives in the novel, or the relationship between Clio and Scout, at its heart this is a novel about the painful loss of a loved one, and the after-effects of a tragic accident.

I notice that opinion on-line is very divided about the meaning of the novel -- is our protagonist dead, insane, or something else?  I tend to go with the something else, because (a) I hate stories like "Ocurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" and (b) the postcard at the end seems to say that Eric ended up OK.

For (a), it's not so much that I hated the original "Ocurrence," but, to the extent it succeeds, it works because it's less than 10 pages long.  I find the conceit too light to bear a whole novel (or movie, which is why I hated Jacob's Ladder).  If the whole damn plot is supposed to be a dream, why should I care about any of it?

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