Those lazy days of summer
Posted July 5, 2007on:
My brain is in one of those periodic stages of low production. I just want to read and read. Paradise Lost is quickly overtaking everything, like a Caribbean octopus spreading out its tentacles, connected by thin spans of skin, effectively blocking any interference from other books. I started Alphabet of Thorns but…it is not going well. I am ticking off the cliches one by one, the orphan with a special, mysterious past, the Magical Artefact (a book with a naturally unassuming appearance), the ruler of kingdoms in peril, and there are mages (mages! I’ve never read a fantasy novel with one of those things before). McKillip’s writing style could have saved it but she’s turned it down in this one, so to speak, and it’s only during any romantic moments that there is any tension…otherwise it’s all humdrum.
Still, there are fascinating details. The heroine, Nepenthe, is a translator, and the peoples’ various languages, old and new, have letter systems largely based on elements of nature, fishes, for example, or thorns like the Magical Artefact. The way McKillip described the translating is a pleasure to read because it’s so imaginative. In this excerpt she’s helping a visiting scholar translate his discovered document.
They discussed the oval, finny letters with an eye here, a gill there at random. He told her his ideas; she puled down previous alphabets she had deciphered, one seemingly of twigs, another of bird-claw impressions in wax….She dreamed that night about fish, bright flashing schools of them whose whirls and darts and turnings this way and that meant something vital in a language of a fish. But what? She struggled with it, trying to persuade her unwieldy human body to move gracefully among the little butterfly fittings, until finally in her dream she swam with them, wheeling and shining, at ease in the water, speaking the invisible language of fish.
That’s not enough to save the story though. I fear I’m in for a very typical fantasy but I have not given up on McKillip yet. (She may drive me to re-read choice bits of Winter Rose though.)
Even when Paradise Lost is somewhat boring I’m not disenchanted. God is a defensive, demanding, self-absorbed creature in Book III and no amount of numerous praise and hosannas from Milton changes that. Jesus comes off as a goody two shoes. Theologically the heavenly scenes were disorienting — no Trinity ergo Christ becomes just a part of the celestial hierarchy, different ideas of what “grace” is and so on. The descriptions of the angels’ praises after Jesus offered himself to “satisfy for man” were pretty great but I sighed with relief once the view lowered and I got to hang with the Adversary again. I’ll do a proper post on Book III.
Really I started this post because I wanted to alert you Penguin’s new marketing idea to readers.
We’re creating a blog on which every single Penguin Classic is reviewed by ordinary readers and whether they love it or hate it, we’re publishing what they have to say. At the moment we’re recruiting readers to get involved – email us here and if you’re in the first batch, you’ll get a free book (randomly chosen so be prepared for anything from Austen to Xenophon) and time to read, digest and review.
I’ve signed up already. Isn’t it a splendid idea? Update: Fran blogs about the potential pitfalls in Penguin’s scheme to get readers to do its dirty work for free.