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35 degrees... :: fans self ::

recent reading, extremly random & i very much need to take some more thought provoking novels with me on vacation... er.

Clive Barker, The Hellbound Heart; Cabal; The Thief of Always: so-so, mostly. Personally I prefer his longer novels. Then again I never much liked short stories (or short novels, for the matter) by any author. To me there's something intensely unsatisfying about this genre.

The Hellbound Heart is rather elegantly minimalist, the style oddly formal for the subject; very moral, almost like some medieval tale.

Cabal is rather bleak, and much more ambiguous. The obvious message is that those who style themselves the guardians of order and normality, all the while ignoring their dark sides or keeping them divided from their public selves (like Decker and his 'mask' - 'The thought of his precious Other being confused with the degenerates of Midian nauseated him') are the real monsters and all the more cruel for their denial.

Nor are the Nightbreed idealised ('He was no longer innocent. With this slaughter he became the killer Decker had persuaded him he was: in murdering the prophet he made the prophecy true.'), but with the world being what it is, dark, cruel and less than ideal, some darkness, some cruelty even, is preferable to the soulless kind. Cleaner maybe. Acceptance of one's darker side may be a painful process, but at least it isn't a spiritual dead end. Decker is left rotting, food for the flies (like Lori's saw herself in the vision that made her change her mind), whereas Boone (forced by Lori) can accept and forgive himself for things beyond his control and accept responsibility for his (albeit involuntary) destruction of Midian.

In a way it's a metaphor for the necessary process of growing up, even if that means moving into uncertain territories ('But she could learn to understand. In a real sense she had no choice. She'd been touched by a knowledge that had changed her inner landscape out of all recognition. There was no way back to the bland pastures of adolescence and early womanhood. She had to go forward. And tonight that meant along this empty street, to see what the coming night had in store'). Growing up together, too - Boone's and Loris's relationship, that is full of love, but despite that uneasy with lies and pretences to the point of almost killing that love (Boone, pretending to be alive for her and at the same time realising that she isn't part of his new life any longer) until Lori learns the truth and accepts him for what he is and forces him to do the same. Romantic, without falling into the usual gender clichés.

Clever and rather intriguing how the Christian myth of resurrection is woven into the tale, not even subverted as might have been the obvious thing to do, but in an almost sincere way, making the priest Ashbury instinctively reconnect and change sides, even if it almost costs him his life in the end.

The end feels cut off rather abruptly, as if this were barely the beginning of a much longer tale.

The Thief of Always : a children's book, obviously, with a rather unambiguous moral, put perhaps a little more bluntly than Barker usually does (but after all it was written for children) about cherishing what one has got and a warning that nothing comes without a dark side or a price to pay. There's the maybe less obvious message that Harvey can beat Hood because his experience as a vampire made him aware of his own darker side.

The regret about wasted time is very much an adult concern, of course, because as far as I remember as a child I was hoping to grow up as fast as possible and the fear that time might be limited never even occurred to me. But a nice read, beautiful artwork.

Picked up at work...

H. Mankell, Vor dem Frost, borrowed not bought. For some reason I do find his slow flowing, dark prose oddly comforting, or as far as this can be said, seeing as I read only the German translation. And the switch to Wallander's daughter Linda is rather clever, as it allows him to take a different perspective on his characters, as well as dispense with descriptions the regular reader would find boring by now, but doesn't force him to change his style and personal entirely.

What continues to irritate me is the occasional unevenness of the novels, the way the different elements of the story seem to exist almost independent of each other. Mankell is good with characters and descriptions, both of scenery and moods, but for some reason he chose crime as a genre to voice his concerns about the problems of the modern world and crime demands - at least to some extent - action, which isn't his strength at all. That his plots tend to have a very abstract, academic element despite their often rather lurid farfetchedness, that almost turns the novel into a philosophical or social treatise, i would even consider an attractive element, but that he apparently derives his 'action' sequences from American movies is more jarring. D. Leon, who has similar social concerns she builds her novels around, at least strives for a certain amount of realism and plausibility, but then again her series is already way past its expiring date. Borrowed her last novel from work and already have problems remembering what it was about.

David Liss, A Conspiracy of Paper: lengthy, as a historical crime novel maybe not so captivating plot wise, but an interesting view of the development of modern economy and living as a Jew in early 18th century London. Capturing the tone of the time perfectly, as far as I can tell, without making the prose stilted of laborious to read. A conflicted and rather interesting hero, and thank god, the obvious romance didn't happen. Not even in the epilogue.

About a third into Ann Rice's Merrick, without much desire to continue. I picked it up from our English paperback sale for nostalgic reasons and found myself bored more than anything else. I'll still admit without (much) blushing to having read and liked the first few books of the Vampire Chronicles, but somewhere after 'The Tale of the Body Thief' between the increasingly mystical/religious plots and less than interesting prose she lost me. She used to do well with Lestat's voice, but the more recent books feel slapdash, almost like she's writing her own fan fiction, and not in a good way at all.

Either she isn't aware of her limitations or she simply cannot be bothered any more, but the sameness of her style for people who came from widely different ages and backgrounds is annoying. David Talbot's character had possibilities, but he turns out supremely uninteresting and it almost makes you cringe to read this over-emotional, lush prose that just doesn't sound at all like a British gentleman born in the last days of the empire would, vampire or no. With Lestat she at least at some point offered a reason as to why he didn't sound like a 18th century French nobleman. :: sigh :: Sad. All for money, one presumes.

Then again maybe it's just my taste that's changed and I'm being unfair.

Browsed through Manfredi's Alexander Trilogy yesterday at work out of boredom. Much talked about, though personally I haven't been able to see its merit. Either it's the prose itself that's awful, or it's the translation, but as I don't read Italian well enough that's neither here nor there. Full of sappy (heterosexual) romance, and he seems to be intent on keeping the main characters very, very straight. Personal reading preferences aside, writing Alexander a hundred percent heterosexual to the point of inventing a female character for the sole purpose of emphasising this, is stretching credibility a little to far and makes it pretty obvious it's the authors issues talking here rather than his analysis of the sources. Sad, considering he is an archaeologist. I'm wondering how the movies will turn out...

For Alexander novels I'll stick to Mary Renault and Gisbert Heafs... widely different, but both better in every respect...


solitary summer

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