Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Jasper Fforde - Shades of Grey

Finally a novel I loved! This is the first of Mr. Ffordes works I have ever read and even though it took some time to comprehend his style and go "aha! He is joking" it was great! I prefer to read the last published novel first (unless it's a series of novels) since I am quite sure the craftsmanship of a writer improves for each novel written.

Quoting the back of the book: "It's Britain, but not as we know it. Entire cities lie buried beneath moorland. Echoes of lost technology pepper the landscape, and there is evidence of conflict in abundance.

Democracy has been replaced by a Colourtocracy. Visual colour dominates society, from the feed pipes that keep the municipal park green to the healing hues you view to cure illness, to a social hierarchy based upon ones limited colour vision. You are what you can see. (Yakoni: This is true to the extreme, and very poetically put)

Eddie Russet has no ambition to be anything other than a loyal drone of the collective. With his better-than-average Red perception, he could marry an Oxblood, inherit the Stringworks, maybe even make Prefect. Life looks colourful. Life looks good.

But then he moves to East Carmine and falls in love with a Grey (Yakoni: someone with very little or no colour vision) named Jane who opens his eyes to the painful truth behind his seemingly perfect society.

Just some few additions to this summary/teaser: Eddie is not so perfect, he constantly gets himself into trouble, one of the reasons he and his father travels to East Carmine. The Greys are like slaves and society has gone through several "leap back in time" reforms forbidding manufacturing of technology such as cars. And all radical thinking is punished and if you cause enough trouble, you get sent off to reboot in order to correct your behaviour.

I'll make a list of what I like the most (in hopes of shortening my posts due to some criticism).

1: The story is great! A classical plot of boy meets girl and forbidden love fits well within this futuristic and confusing version of our world. There is loads of politics within this colour society which requires some careful manoeuvring. Eddie, being who he is, steps on a few toes of course and the plot thickens and draws me in. Enemies and friends, all perfected side characters that adds colour without being too dominant.

2: Jane the Grey is awesome! Having physically hurt almost every man in the village that has called her cute or commented upon her nose, she is fierce! She ads a lot to this novel and contrast the good-boy Eddie perfectly like when she puts laxatives in the cake she made for the village's prefects or when she trapped Eddie in a flesh-eating bush in order to question him about his inquiries or when she assaulted the female hockeyball team while teamed up with the guys. (I usually like spiteful girls)

3: This is a funny novel, maybe not in a Ha-ha way, but definitely in a snickery way. I couldn't stop myself from being amused, even in the more serious parts. The novel is full of satire of humanity and our (and our politicians) stupidity. The society is governed by laws that nobody remembers the purpose of, like the prohibition of manufacturing spoons. Every chapter is starts with a quotation of a rule, most which dictates details such as " Pocket handkerchiefs are to be changed daily, and to be kept folded, even when in the pocket. Handkerchiefs may be patterned."There even exists a "Leapback list" where all technology banned is listed, which is hysterical and shows how the world could become if extremist take over our world. I see the connections to the PTA panels in the US where the concerned mom's blame computer games and Marilyn Manson for the Columbine massacre. Let them lead the world and a leapback may occur in our world as well. Assumptions are a bad thing.

I think I will read this novel several times in the future. There are loads of sweet stuff left to discover, all cleverly hidden and intertwined in the story. I think that some more knowledge will do me some good in understanding all the satire. There have been several times where I understood that satire was used, without understanding what it was supposed to mock. Culture or age, I don't know, but as a reader I lack the ability to enjoy it for all it is worth.

Gores Truly, Yakoni

Friday, April 2, 2010

Naomi Novik - Temeraire, Throne of Jade and Black Powder War

Just a warning before I begin: This will be bad. (And I have been instructed to add that this text is a spoiler alert. Skip to the last two paragraphs if you wish to be convinced of these novels' terribleness)

For the ones that are not familiar with the story, here's a summary. Since the story is quite plain I will just do it myself. In Temeraire, Captain William Laurence of H.M.S. Reliant is swept from his naval career when he captures a rare dragon egg. The plot is set during the Napoleon war and in this version of history, dragons serve as a sort of Air Force. A good idea that made me continue to read the two following novels, hoping for some more interesting originality. But nay.

In the second novel, Throne of Jade, the dragon Temeraire (a true hell to write that name) and his now truly devoted handler/rider/ friend Captain Laurence goes to China to see the emperor and negotiating keeping Temeraire, something I thought would be super cool, but then... mostly the novel is spent travelling on a huge transporting boat. Do you know how long it takes to sail from Britain to China? Obviously it takes about two thirds of a novel. That is a lot of boring reading and stalling in the storyline. Travel diaries are not interesting even if a dragon is positioned on the deck or if the customs of the Chinese are strange and foreign. Even the attempts on Laurence's life and a sea-monster attack is boring. Coming to china they wait some more, get attacked and finally the dragon Temeraire gets tired like the rest of us readers and just kill the motherfucking prince Ching-chong someting that was so obviously the bad guy all along.

In Black Powder War they travel some more after the emperor of China adopted Laurence (the easy way of solving the ownership of a royal dragon, such as Temeraire of course is. Yawn, it took forever for the characters to figure it out even though I understood it the first time they pondered the dragon's race which was in the middle of book one). They have orders to retrieve some dragon eggs under mysterious orders from Istanbul. But the now vengeful dragon of the deceased china-prince is determined to destroy everything Temeraire loves, including Britain. So more stalling in Istanbul before finally making up their mind to just run/fly away. Why the hundred-page wait? And.. I have not bothered reading more as they got stalled again somewhere in Austria. Again.

These novels are as you might suspect by now extremely predictable and slow. The story is linear without
building any sympathy for the characters and ignoring any descriptions or minor details that may endear the reader to the story. The only character that gains sympathy is the dragon Temeraire since he is just as impatient, ready for some action, intelligent and reflected as the readers themselves. The other characters are stuck in formalities and dinner parties that drag on forever.

I sorely wish that somewhere along the first waiting at Gibraltar, Temeraire and Laurence turn into pirates and escape the bureaucracy. Loyalty to a crown that hates your guts is not worth it. Laurence is just mellow and too much a good boy. The good captain even finds it radical to escape from their captors or inquire in the mysteries presented. The solutions come to him, persistent, rather than he, the supposedly protagonist tries to find them. Glad I stopped reading when I did.

One other thing that bothers me immensely is the lack of emotion. Not a single tear shed, and I cry fairly easily. The language and style is unmoving. Even when a ten-year old crew member dies it just passes with a formal letter to his mother that Laurence regrets having to write. They loose one or two members during each novel, neither which seems sad or moves me. Maybe it is that the author does not manage to create emotional ties to the characters, forgetting or choosing not to let the reader get to know them in depth. The presence of formality again hindering the quality of the story.

To sum up: Good idea that is badly executed. Boring and tedious, packed with formality and
bureaucracy that stall the story. The only way that this particular time-period gets exiting to read about is a narrative with loads of poetic details, breaking of rules and formality and loads of rebellious swagger. In other words; do not read, pick up some good war-memoirs or something more intriguing instead.

Yours cruelly, Yakoni

Monday, March 29, 2010

Neil Gaiman - Graveyard Book

As a first post in this blog, I will comment upon a novel worth it. Even though this novel is written for children and young adults I have given the story a lot of thought. If you have not read it or need a reminder of its context, here is a short summary from Mr. Gaiman's homepage: The genre in which I would believe many struggles to place Mr. Gaiman's novels, is often the genre of classical fairytales. Mr. Rothfuss nicely summarized what a fairytale is: a story in which our world or a similar one is met with improbable occurances and creatures such as for example magic or talking-crossdressing wolves.

The story is an original one, a human boy brought up by ghosts and what seems to be a sort of vampire, in a graveyard. As to the overall plot, it's sort of weak. Only the first and ending chapters involve the plot at all. The mid part of the novel is made up out of individual, smaller plots such as aquiering a headstone for the graveyards rejected whitch or exploring the disallowed crypt. This seperation of plots results in a jagged read, the flow of the story more similar to a collection of short stories, all with the same main character, Nobody Owens. In my opinion some of the smaller plots are way more interesting and exiting than the main plot, where Nobody is hiding from the murderous man Jack, who is determined to kill him.

On the other hand, these smaller plots and stories are perfect for children who has a smaller attention span than adults and for bedtime reading. The more scary parts such as the ghouls kidnapping Nobody, may save the children from nightmares, but dissapoint the adults as the ghouls do not reappear. It did certainly dissapoint me.

As for the characters, they are definitly a strong point in the Graveyard Book. Bod (short for Nobody) Owens is charming, naive, courageous, strange and an outsider, easy to identify with and recognize. I sympathised with him in his adventures, yet still he annoyed me with his foolishness. But what else than missteps would drive the story forward? I like it best when the main character works his or hers way out of the situations themselves with tact and action, such as when Bod escapes from the crypt or the backroom of the pawn shop. And as it is, I like Bod, including his foolishness. My reaction of irritation is only proof that I care for the character and his fate. The brooding mother hen, that's me. (Yeah, I know it is a work of fiction) The other good characters are all agreeable and entertaining in their familiarity, maybe exept Silas who is dark and mysterious and most surely a vampire-like creature. Also Bod trusing Silas examplefies the animal in us humans; "Oh, from this looner and dark vampire comes food and drink, therefore I must trust him and be loyal".

The evil side with the man Jack as the main evil-doer is less interesting. Mysterious, yes but just pointless. It is not convincing that there is an organization of sociopaths that methodically kills people for no good reason and usually gets away with it. Even Gaiman's self-obvious style does not convince me. I do accept the ghosts, ghouls and all other fairytale elements, maybe it is the lack of the supernatural that makes the man Jack less probable?

Anyhow, this novel is worth reading and wholly entertaining. Just read it for what it is, a collection of great shorter stories collected as a novel adding a matching beginning and end.

Yours Truly, Yakoni