Monday, April 30, 2007

Alternate histories

No posts round here till early next week (but I'm hoping once I'm back from this trip I'll be in more normal read-books-and-literary-news-and-write-about-them mode, I've been excessively frenzied with various work stuff these last couple weeks). Meanwhile let me just say that thanks to Colleen I've discovered a really wonderful little novel that I wouldn't have heard about otherwise but that is pretty much perfectly to my taste, and really beautifully conceived and written: Jo Walton's Farthing.

It's a lovely book, a modest and beautifully written crime novel that also manages to be very imaginative alternate history and casts some intense light on questions about accommodation and moral heroism. Put it on the shelf next to Fatherland and The Plot Against America and The Yiddish Policemen's Union (and also the wonderful and underrated A State of Denmark by Derek Raymond).

But the book's style is quite different from any of those--in the acknowledgments, Walton thanks "the dead writers of English mysteries, especially Josephine Tey and Dorothy L. Sayers, and to the master of living ones, Peter Dickinson" (also she appealingly observes that the novel arose largely out of her "thoughts on various political situations, and out of wondering what date Josephine Tey could have imagined Brat Farrar to be set"). These of course are three of my favorite, most magical novelists ever--and I will take this opportunity to recommend Peter Dickinson to anyone who hasn't read him, he was a staple of my public-library-and-mass-market-paperback reading in my early teens and I remain devoted to his books. I think my favorite--the one everyone must read!--is The Lively Dead; and one of the narrative voices here distinctly reminds me of The Last House Party, but really with Dickinson you can hardly go wrong, he's just such an intelligent and cunning and deeply appealing writer. Walton's done a very good job with this novel, in other words, and I am dying for the sequel, Ha'penny, though I am afraid it will not be published until October.

The other novels I've been reading are a recommendation from Justine, and also incredibly perfectly to my taste--The Thief and The Queen of Attolia (I've still got the third in the trilogy to look forward to) by Megan Whalen Turner. Again, even before plunging into them I pretty much knew I was going to love them because of the intelligent and altogether delightful material at the back of the volume. This must be the only young-adult novel published in recent memory--maybe ever?!?--whose afterword recommends my beloved Thucydides and also singles out Diana Wynne Jones, Joan Aiken and Rosemary Sutcliff as special loves & influences--I have found a kindred spirit...

Finally I will just observe that though in the end I did have a very pleasant swim this evening, next year I must not go swimming in the last hour the pool is open on the last day of classes as the minutes tick down for final eligibility for seniors to take the swim test they are required to pass in order to graduate!

1 comment:

  1. We have read all of the Eugenides series out loud to one another, and I'm not surprised you took to them. Without spoilers, I can say that what I found most interesting about King of Attolia (the third book) was the way it let me anticipate what may be waiting in the fourth book.

    I haven't yet given in to Lee Child, but I'll let you know when I succumb.

    Enjoy your trip!