Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Alphabet talk

I could not resist the barrage of media attention--did it strike anyone other than me that this book has just been unrelentingly reviewed?!?--and so I obtained a copy of Spook Country and rather devoured it.

I was uneasily conscious during the first third or so of it perhaps not quite living up to my impossibly high expectations, that Gibson style strikes me as slightly mannered when I first encounter it, but then I found myself in the rhythm of it and really quite mesmerized. The lightness of his touch is remarkable, what he does with the language just gets me: the plot itself feels fairly familiar, though familiar partly because Gibson imagined this world before it came fully into existence, the tropes and characters are also fairly familiar, and yet when it's working right it's just magically good.

The best way to describe the experience of reading it, I think, is to say that it's what magical action movies with a technology theme and a hint of metaphyics should be but aren't: this has that strange aura that's more commonly associated with film than with novels, and in the best possible way. In particular, there's an action sequence set in and around Union Square that is quite wonderful (hmm, in a slightly earlier scene at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine I got distracted by the fact of the aftermath of the fire there not being acknowledged, that huge open space was all boarded up into corridors last time I was there, like the awful warren of renovations beneath King's Cross Station--novelist's prerogative says you can have alternate-world variants, but I wondered whether this was deliberate or not...); the novel follows three different characters, all appealing in their way, but the most alluring is the Chinese-Cuban boy called Tito with his backtucks and his mysterious "protocol" or systema and his ineffable gods the Guerreros. Beautiful stuff.

Anyway, here's a bit of language that especially caught my attention. It's a description of a landscape I've passed often on the train, never without being struck by it, and Gibson puts this into a rather amazing string of words, nothing consequential but a glimpse of the pleasures this book offers along the way:
There were ghosts in the Civil War trees, past Philadelphia.

Earlier the track had passed near streets of tiny row houses, in neighborhoods where poverty seemed to have been as efficient as the neutron bomb was said to be. Streets as denuded of population as their windows were of glass. The houses themselves seemed to belong less to another time than to another country; Belfast perhaps, after some sectarian biological attack. The shells of Japanese cars in the streets, belly down on bare rims.
Bonus link: Gibson talks to Deborah Solomon in the New York Times Magazine. The sentence "It was a pre-Heimlich restaurant" strikes me as very characteristic, I like that--mordant's the word...

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