Saturday, August 12, 2006

Doling out small amounts of fiction to myself

to pace myself on the work stuff (I'm gearing up for one more minor/massive stint of work-related reading, but I think I must have one more novel this weekend too): after thinking about it the other day I'd worked myself into such a pitch of excitement that I had to read Kit Whitfield's Benighted (UK Bareback, I wish they'd kept that title for the US edition but that's pretty much my only complaint, this novel is excellent).

It's a novel with werewolves rather than a werewolf novel, if the distinction makes sense; and the thing that really makes it work is the amazingly satisfying first-person voice. The narrator is irritable, badly behaved, stubborn, rude, unethical and altogether rather irresistible, in a complete-downer kind of way; in fact, my suspicion is that the only thing that might stop this book reaching the huge readership it deserves is the darkness of the world Whitfield imagines. It's a thought-experiment kind of book, in a good way; I was most closely reminded of Colson Whitehead's The Intuitionist, a book I loved (and strange to say this heroine is not just quite similar to that one but they even have almost the same name, Lila Mae Watson for Whitehead's book and Lola May Galley for Whitfield's), and also of Frances Fyfield's solicitor heroines/gritty urban crime mode, with a bit of the feel of Louise Welsh. Although a lot of what you read in the paranormal/urban fantasy vein is built on the bones of fantasy or romance genre fiction, this one (and despite the speculative alternate history thought-experiment-y feel--in this society, "normal" is werewolf and the non-lycanthrope minority are enlisted for poorly paid and extremely dangerous duty with the Department for the Ongoing Regulation of Lycanthropic Activities to deal with lycanthropes who break the curfew on the night of the full moon) is definitely more noir: think Richard Paul Russo's dystopian near-future San Francisco, or even the Philip K. Dick/Blade Runner kind of vibe. A serious novel about discrimination and tolerance, beautifully well written and with some very good shape-changing descriptions too: this one's a great read, it's definitely making my year-end best-book list even though it lacks that comfort-reading aspect I always secretly hope for in a vampire/shapeshifter book (see Robin McKinley's Sunshine if you want an equally well-written but ultimately far sunnier book than this one--but really you should read both--oh, and this one doesn't have vampires, that was misleading wording on my part, but don't let it stop you...).

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