18 September 2010

Three hefty tomes.

Perdido Street Station, China Miéville: Gah. GAH. This dude may be the most jaw-droppingly imaginative talent I've ever read, and Exhibit A for the end to marginalization of "genre" fiction. To be able to dream such bizarre-yet-familiar worlds and peoples and monsters without being completely mad oneself is such a rarity--if no one else ever wrote a book again besides him and Kelly Link (and Peter Cameron for some realism once in a while. And Brian Lies, for picture books with bats in them), I would be a happy camper. (Also, my boyfriend is sick of hearing about Mr. Miéville. I probably should not have mentioned that he's also v. attractive.)

Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel: Last year's Man Booker Prize winner, and I'm on a weird kind of fence about it. It is not that I didn't enjoy it--I certainly did--but I am just not sure what raises it above popular Tudor romance like Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir. It traffics in the same marvelous gossip-y history, covers the same time period, has many characters in common: why, though, is Wolf Hall Serious Lit Fic while Mss. Gregory and Weir are considered "low" commercial fiction? My only answer is in writing style, but there I'm left with how often I was confused as to who was speaking or acting or the subject of the sentence. Does "hard to follow" equal "literary"? If so, why on earth? But again, I did like this book. I just don't see how it differs qualitatively from other historical fiction or, say, The Tudors, which I started watching on Netflix after reading Wolf Hall and which is glorious, giddy, overwrought, exploitative fun. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers has not yet bellowed, "Because I am the KING!!!" while overturning a table, but OMG I know it's coming.

Skippy Dies, Paul Murray: I don't generally underline quotes in books I'm reading--at least when it's not Montaigne--but I wish I had with this one, because it's been a few weeks since I read it and the beauty of the writing is so incredible, I'd love to have examples at my fingertips. These 600 pages about the trauma of adolescence and what follows, set in an Irish boarding school, also give the lie to my tendency to say I'm not interested in realistic fiction; but it gives me a touchstone for what makes me want to read the non-speculative--Skippy Dies hits the sweet spot for me between bleak and hilarious, between epic and hopelessly mundane. And it taught me something about WWI I hadn't previously known: how Irishmen who fought with the British Empire found themselves traitors in the wake of the Easter Rebellion, and a generation was simply swept under the carpet. Just when you think there can't be more tragedy associated with the Great War...

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