Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Jewish Dog, Captain's Fury, Faerie Queene

I haven't written much about Asher Kravitz's The Jewish Dog, but I've been reading it steadily.  The dog, having been through a number of names, is now a guard dog in a concentration camp.  I have a feeling Kravitz is heading toward a moderately optimistic ending, where the dog helps his former owner to escape the camp, but this book has surprised me a few times already.

By now, Kravitz has abandoned the dog's naivete, which is probably just as well; it was getting to be more grating than funny.  Instead, the dog has become a much more straightforward narrator.

Jim Butcher's novels drive me crazy.  On the one hand, he is very good at constructing an over-arching plot-line, constructing interesting dilemmas for his characters (and giving them interesting ways to solve them), and general world-building.  On the other hand, on a sentence by sentence level, he's about the most leaden author I continue to read.  So every time I start one of his books, until it gets into the flow, I ask myself why I'm bothering.  Then things get into a groove, and his plot starts building steam, and he gets into great set pieces, and everything's great.  Then we get into a lull in the action, and the writing or dialog has me cringing again.  And just as I'm ready to throw in the towel, the plot picks up again, and I can't wait to see what will happen.

Captain's Fury is no exception to the general rule.  And that's probably about all that needs to be said about it.  (Well, almost.  I found the stage machinery to be more obvious this time than most; Butcher needs First Lord out of the way where he can't deus ex machina the whole main plot-line away, so he creates a whole side mission for him.  Although his mission may have dramatic consequences for the future of the series, in this novel it's pretty clearly just there to keep the most powerful characters out of the main plot).

In Book IV of The Faerie Queene.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Bend Sinister, Crisscross, Room, Faerie Queene

It's been a long time since I posted; lots piled up since then...

I finished Bend Sinister.  I should've guessed the identity of the narrator.  (I actually did, but then decided it was too meta, which was silly of me).  Overall, I think it wasn't as successful as some of Nabokov's other work.  The games felt separate from the core of the novel, somehow, unlike, say Pale Fire, where the game is the novel.  Also, I thought the authorial hand was too heavy-handed (no pun intended).

Speaking of heavy-handed authors, F. Paul Wilson has given his plots an interesting excuse in his "Repairman Jack" series.  Jack's actions are now being watched by a higher power of sorts, so there are no more coincidences in his life.  This gives Wilson the option to throw in a lot of coincidences into his plotting.  How does Jack happen to be in the right place at the right time?  The higher power.  How does every case he's involved in end up connected to the dark power?  The higher power.  And so on.

Fortunately, other than using this card in setting up Crisscross, Wilson doesn't otherwise invoke it.  Instead, he sets Jack up in his most non-fantastic plot yet.  (I don't exactly want to call it realistic, but it doesn't really have many overtly supernatural elements).  His plotting is actually pretty standard fare for thrillers, maybe even a cut above many, since he doesn't rely on crazy convoluted stories.  Overall, Crisscross is a decent entry in the series, even if it's not going to set the genre on fire.

Room is a sort of half-thriller, I think.  Donoghue has put together the elements of a thriller (a woman kidnapped, locked into an 11 x 11 room for 6 years with a baby, trying to get out), but her emphasis isn't on plot.  Instead, we look at the world through the eyes of the woman's now-5-year-old son Jack, as he tries to make sense of the world he finds himself in.  I think that Jack's viewpoint is the only possible one if this story is not to be a horror novel.  He's too innocent to really think about his life, and, by putting us in his place, Donoghue lets us dodge the implications of the back-story somewhat.

At the same time, I think a little bit of thriller pacing would have helped this book.  After Donoghue sets up Jack's viewpoint, there's a bit of a feeling of longeurs as we sort of get used to how things are, while we wait for his mother to act.  Then, again, after the escape, things are interesting for a time as we see Jack learning to cope with the much wider world. But, again, as he starts to heal, and things get to be more normal, a sense of longeurs sets in.  When Jack sees the beach, he's amazed, because he's never experienced anything quite like it.  But I'd imagine the same would be true if you took a 5-year-old from Ohio to the beach for the first time.  By the end of the novel, seeing Jack react to stuff is really losing steam, because he feels more like an every-child.  (I understand that this is by design, to show that he's becoming more normal, but I think that Donoghue should've had a better solution than just letting the book peter out).

On Book III of The Faerie Queene.  I don't really have much to say about it, except that I'm really enjoying it.  It's got a reputation as being the longest English poem, but I think that, even on a micro level, it's a very fine poem.  There are some standout alliterations, cool chiasmus, and all the good stuff that a classical poem should have.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Barchester Towers, Bend Sinister, Faerie Queene

I finished Barchester Towers, not really much to add to what I wrote before.  Except that, of all the Victorian novelists I've read, Trollope's sexism is by far the hardest to overlook.  I think it's because he has such a strong authorial voice, and his narrator constantly tells us what's ladylike and what's not.

Anyways, having finished that, I started listening to Nabokov's Bend Sinister.  In retrospect, it's not really a natural choice for listening to.  The narration is very slippery, jumping between 1st and 3rd person without notice, with one long foray into 2nd.  I must admit that I'm still not sure of the identity of the 1st person narrator (not finished the novel yet), although I suspect it is Adam Krug himself.

This novel has obvious political overtones, but they're almost not worth discussing, they're so blatant.  Instead, I think that a major theme of this novel is reflections.  They're a subject we'll see Nabokov return to later, in Pale Fire and (AFAIK) Ada.  Nabokov's title already tells us as much, as the introduction tells us.  In addition, we find police arresting people in pairs; there are two boys who get mixed up; and so on.  I think that some otherwise pointless digressions make sense in this light. 

The Padukgraph, which makes copies of a person's handwriting, takes up an inordinate amount of space in this trim novel.  The otherwise puzzling Hamlet discussion can also be seen in this light -- Fortinbras is seen as a sort of double for Hamlet, but Fortinbras, in this reading, is the real hero of the novel.  Even small oddities make some sense here.  For example, the narrator constantly inserts words and phrases in French, German, Russian (I think that's all of them), immediately followed by a translation into English.  In other novels, Nabokov is certainly not averse to non-English phrases, but he almost never translates them.  I think that the constant translation gives you a feel that you're seeing a refracted reflection -- it's like the original, but not the same.

Is there an ultimate deeper meaning to all the twinning?  I'm not sure yet; I'll have to write more as I finish listening.

Lastly, I'm reading Spenser's Faerie Queene.  Not so much to say about it, except that I love the poetry of it.  It's inventive like Orlando Furioso, but I think it's more poetic (although of course, I've only read Orlando  in translation).