Wednesday, April 15, 2015

More Recent Reading

Dark Matter: A Ghost Story (2010), by Michelle Paver.  This is basically the journal written by one man of a doomed 1937 expedition to an imagined isolated place called Gruhuken in the Arctic, north of Norway.  While it is a ghost story, the ghost takes the form of a haunted figure in the icy landscape.  What’s far more real and significant to the men of the expedition, at first, is the barren landscape itself, the frozen world, and how to survive in it.  By authorial sleight of hand, giving out only selective details of the failed mission at the very beginning, one is left with a well-written page turner that draws you to the end.  With the right director and screenwriter, there is just enough material here, as well as mood and character, to make an interesting and artistic film.  

Red Delicious (2014), by Caitlín Kiernan writing as Kathleen Tierney, is the second of Kiernan’s novels about the half-werewolf, half-vampire Siobhan Quinn.  The first was Blood Oranges (2013), which also appeared as Kiernan writing as Tierney. When an established author uses a pseudonym, it’s often to do something quick for money, or something very different from their usual style.  Either may be true in this instance, but Kiernan really should have hid behind a pseudonym.  The book is a basically an extended exercise in attitude and cliché.  And it is basically a monologue by Quinn (who hates her first name Siobhan, so everyone calls her that at least once so the author can insert some boilerplate text about Quinn hating it). The whole is filled with unnecessary wordage, not always as wise as this bit from late in the book:  “Those of you who find this annoying, go read another book, instead. I won’t mind.”  I finished the book primarily to see if the author might do something interesting for an ending. Nope.  Just the same ole same ole. To use an appropriate critical cliché, this book isn’t writing, it’s typing.  

The Biographical Dictionary of Literary Failure (2014), edited by C.D. Rose. This book is basically a slim encyclopedia of biographies of some fifty-two failed writers.  I presume that they all lived only in the mind of the supposed editor, whose imagination was apparently given free reign at a website, from which these are collected.  Add a rather pretentious introduction by one Andrew Gallix.  Some readers may find this book clever.  I found it merely boring. One could, I suppose, build short stories around this kind of exercise, but what’s present here is just the invention, without artistry. I’d much rather read Borges than crap like this.   

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2001), by François Augiéras, translated by Sue Dyson.  The original French edition “L’Apprenti Sorcier” appeared without the author’s name in Les Cahiers des Saisons (Éditions Julliard, 1964), where it is listed as by the author of Le Vieillard et l’Enfant (1949), which had appeared at the author’s expense under the pseudonym of Abdullah Chaanba.  It is a bizarre narrative, written as though by a teenage boy who is sent to live with a priest in his mid thirties. The nameless narrator is used sexually by the priest, and comes to love the pain of flagellation. Meanwhile he falls in love with a younger boy, and they have their own warm and open sexual relations, in contrast to those with the priest, and they cause consternation in the small village. The boy decides to write a small book (presumably the one that is being read):  “a tissue of weaknesses run through with follies and naïvity, that was the sort of book I could be the author of.” And that’s a reasonable description of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. A handful of poetic observations and keen turns of phrase, scattered throughout this short book, are just enough to help the reader make it to the end. 

Passion  (L’Appasionata): A Tale of Venice (2014), by Stefan Grabinski, translated by Miroslaw Lipinski.  Those familiar with the work of the Polish fantasist Grabinski will be intrigued by this novelette, his longest short prose work.  It starts out quite different from Grabinski’s usual, being first a kind of travelogue of Venice, and second a tale of romantic infatuation. Grabinski slowly sets the stage, and then his usual magic begins.  A very fine tale is the result.  

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