Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Some novels I got all the way through this month

Yesterday I listed books I've tried in the last three or four weeks. I'm going to talk briefly about the novels I managed to read all the way through:

Reamde, Neal Stephenson
11/11/63, Stephen King
Santa Olivia, Jacqueline Carey
The Long Tomorrow, Leigh Brackett
The Affair, Lee Child
Island, Thomas Perry
The Last Werewolf, Glen Duncan
Haweswater, Sarah Hall

Key word: brief. Which means my remarks may seem to be brusque or careless. After Hild I'm finding it difficult to write at length. My comments will feel more like elevator conversation than the long, rambling beery interludes you're used to here. It might seem as though I'm damning with faint praise; that's not my intent. I'm talking about these books because I think they might be worth your time.

The Stephenson (Reamde) was kind of cool--a geek thriller set in various parts of the world (including the online world) full of fascinating detail about how aspects of MMPORGs (and money, and China, and terrorism, and drug smuggling, etc.) work. Also offering insight (I suspect) into how some corporate sultans of tech think. Very long, though. And the last 20% or so felt a little out of control. Actually, it felt a bit like Return of the King, the movie: too many endings. But the women aren't objects, they're very much subjects (mostly--still lots of tie-them-up-and-threaten-them-sexually scenes, sigh). If you want to spend a week in another world, read this.

The King (11/22/63) was a return to his old style, lacking that particular bitterness which feels like carelessness I've come to associate with his recent work. A few pages in it was clear to me that this was an idea he'd had near the beginning of his career. The afterword confirmed it. Also confirmed in the afterword: the ending is not entirely his. It's a nice ending, but it doesn't sit entirely comfortably. But, damn, I was relieved. Given his recent callousness to his characters, I thought the ending might be horrible. I read on faith. I was well rewarded. I might talk about this one some more another time, when a Certain Someone Who Bakes has finished it and won't be grumpy about spoilers.

The Carey (Santa Olivia) was a blast. Lesbian boxing mutants, woo hoo! It was also peculiarly one-dimensional in places. But, oh, what assured narrative; so lovely to be in competent hands. I knew nothing of this book before I started it and haven't read anything about it since. It wouldn't surprise me to find out that this, like the King, had its genesis at the dawn of the author's career. It has that fresh-new-writer-in-the-world feel to it. Also like the King, I was initially worried about the story trajectory. But, again, it ended well. Perhaps a little too well. It's obvious Carey is writing a sequel, and I feel about that the same way I felt about the Phèdre books: Kushiel's Dart was wonderful, the sequels unnecessary and a dilution of the original premise. But that's just the kind of reader/writer I am. If you can tell the story with one definite spear thrust, then you don't need endless dancing and jabbing. Mileage varies. (I know lots of readers would love to have a sequel to Ammonite...)

The Brackett (The Long Tomorrow) was a reread. A Ruined Earth story, in some ways the American mirror image of Wyndham's The Chrysalids. I'm writing a short essay on this one, so I'll stop there for now.

I think Lee Child's The Affair was the first book I read after finishing Hild. It's pretty much what I expect from a Reacher Novel, with the added bonus of being Reacher's origin story. Reacher never changes. In other words, the perfect book to read when you don't want anything surprising, e.g. while flying.

Island, by Thomas Perry, was a bravura performance, and a delight. Not deep, but a fascinating premise--create land, turn it into a nation state--backed to the hilt by a thoroughly committed author. Good stuff.

Glen Duncan's The Last Werewolf was great: chewy, unexpected, sharply written and exactly what the title promises. Sort of. Let me put it this way: a smart protagonist, lots of sex and food and blood, a hint of queerness, some name-brand Scotch, good clothes and a nifty ending. No doubt this one, too, will have a sequel. I might read it.

Hall's Haweswater is a fine novel, a paean to early twentieth-century Cumbria. Hall understands bodies, human and animal, and she understands landscape. Her notions of story and point of view aren't like mine--her perspective shifts about two-thirds of the way through, which I found disorientating--but I can recommend this one if you like the moors of Hardy and Emily Brontë. Given the other works of hers that I've read (The Carhullan Army and one short story) I'm beginning to suspect she has a problem with endings. But she's definitely worth reading.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving here in the US--so discussion of the list of books that didn't work for me will have to wait a few days.

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