Archive for January, 2013

‘Stonemouth’ by Iain Banks

January 25, 2013

I liked this novel very much, even though it instantiates a broad pattern common to, at least, The Crow Road and The Steep Approach to Garbadale, maybe even Espedair Street: The male protagonist returns to the place where he spent his youth, where an unresolved teenage-love issue is waiting to be resolved. Maybe this is a defining topic for Banks himself? Stonemouth deviates from the pattern (more narrowly conceived) insofar as … But that would be a spoiler. Let me just say that this book ends on a slightly more positive note, in a certain sense, than the others. Then again, the others have happy endings too, I’d say — I like that! Not naive, happily-ever-after happy endings but more sophisticated, grown-up happy endings. Maybe I’m a sucker that way, but I like reading stories where people not so dissimilar from me go through a crisis, suffer, then take a developmental step or have some kind of inner breakthrough and get a happy ending, at least for the time being. I suppose it’s what I’d like for myself. I mean, crises and suffering I have already (I’m a father); I’m waiting for the breakthrough, the moment of slight enlightenment.

I guess noticing such patterns is the curse of people like me who let themselves become addicted to particular writers and then read everything of theirs they can lay their hands on (well, not the history of whisky Banks wrote, Raw Spirit: In Search of the Perfect Dram — or maybe some day; probably it is a quite entertaining read, even though I couldn’t care less about alcohol — okay, just ordered it, only 3,41 € including postage, for the hardcover edition, couldn’t resist): if you read enough of an author’s material you’re bound to stumble over common themes sooner or later. Let me emphasize that there is no real repetition. Well, in a philosophical sense there is, but not the real kind, where you’d say, reading a single one of these books is enough, reading the others would be redundant. No, no, they’re quite different stories. (At least they seem so to me; I’m not that analytic and critical a reader.)

To forestall misunderstandings: this is not just (or even not at all) a love story; for example, it has also elements of a detective story, it is very exciting in parts!

‘Nine Princes in Amber’ by Roger Zelazny

January 12, 2013

This fantasy novel felt a bit weird for a long time, as the protagonist, Corwin of Amber, at first didn’t even know who he was and then didn’t seem to know what to do. But I liked the last part, after Corwin was thrown into the dungeons (I love the Count of Monte Cristo story, as far as I know it; haven’t actually read the original yet, but several adaptations, such as the great The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester — also in a beautiful graphic-novel version done by Howard Chaykin — and the not-as-great The Stars’ Tennis Balls by Stephen Fry, whose other work I like more): from then on, there was something worth doing, and he did it. I’m curious to see how the tale goes on, in The Guns of Avalon.

I read this in a volume of ‘Fantasy Masterworks’, called The Chronicles of Amber, even though it contains only the first five Amber novels out of ten, not to mention a few short stories. This edition is cheap, but also cheaply made, with lots of typos and mediocre printing.

‘Dodger’ by Terry Pratchett

January 4, 2013

Pratchett’s latest ‘novel for young adults’ takes place in London (mostly), somewhere around the middle of the 19th century, and thus in a Dickensian setting. (Charles Dickens is even an important supporting character in the book. I waited for Darwin to make an appearance, but that tender hope was sadly thwarted.) The title character, Dodger, is obviously modeled on the Artful Dodger (whose ‘real’ name is, amusingly for us Richard Dawkins fans, Jack Dawkins — presumably neither of them is named for the other) from Oliver Twist, though not very close; for example, Dodger simpliciter is a tosher whereas the Artful Dodger is not. He gets involved in the problems of an abducted girl or young woman and, thanks to his unique talents, plays a central role in solving them.

The book pratchetts along, joke upon joke, puns galore; however, the plot never totally captured my feelings, even the exciting parts did not quicken my heartbeat. I suppose that applies to others of Pratchett’s novels as well. But maybe it is not an appropriate criticism of Pratchett’s writing, as he doesn’t aim to deliver drama or thrillers. I guess it just so happened that after reading this particular book I asked myself for the first time whether it gave me this ’emotion capture’. So, my comments shouldn’t put off readers (except those looking for high drama): Dodger is quite as good as Pratchett’s books usually are.