Thursday, March 19, 2009

Playing catch-up

I had a funny hodgepodge of light reading during my travels - in fact in the weeks before I left I was working so impossibly hard that I had scarcely any time to read at all, a most irregular and highly undesirable state of affairs! But insofar as this blog contains a fairly thorough log of the novels I read, it may be worth summing up the literature of my peregrinations...

In the days before I left, I did read Mike Carey's The Devil You Know (very enjoyable and exactly what I like, though I felt it could have perhaps been edited a bit for pacing and plot - I will certainly read the follow-up volumes, though...) and two incredibly trashy omnibus collections of Darkover novels by Marion Zimmer Bradley, the light reading I had promised myself I would seek out: The Saga of the Renunciates and A World Divided. I was glad to have 'em, but the packaging on these new editions is incredibly sloppy, and it is also awkward reading these books written over a long time span and with different levels of skill - the three novels in the "World Divided" collection are so simple and reductive that they read like relatively poor-quality SF "juveniles" rather than full-on adult novels on the scale of (what is in my opinion still by far the best of all the Darkover novels) Thendara House.

On the ship: Emma Bull, Territory (liked it very much, but was puzzled by the extent to which it felt only a sketch or episode in some much larger narrative); Greg Bear, Quantico (first half very good indeed, plotting in second half a slight falling-off as scenarios become increasingly apocalyptic - but I liked this one a great deal, and found it both stimulating and a good read); Iain Pears' forthcoming Stone's Fall, which I found a wonderfully good read - I literally could not put it down - but suspected (there was no internet access to check!) was full of historical inaccuracies that a fact-checker should have caught (furniture from Heals would be a more plausible aspiration for a young man in the interwar period - it is too early in 1909 for a young person of the sort Pears describes to covet furnishings from that particular design mecca - another of Pears' narrators says on p. 521, "So I chose a new name for myself: Virginie, as I had read my Rousseau and still dreamed of finding my Paul," but clearly Pears (it is not plausibly a mistake to attribute to his narrator - she is not unreliable in this particular sense) is muddling up Rousseau's Sophie and her Emile with the lovers Paul and Virginie of Saint-Pierre - there were at least a dozen other similarly inconsequential details that flagged my attention as being almost certainly anachronistic or tin-eared; Philip Roth, American Pastoral (gloves! and indeed the protagonist's father is amazingly well brought to life, though I was not as much moved and impressed by the novel as a whole as I was by some of Roth's other major novels of the 1990s); and then a most excellent novel that I discovered in the ship's small library of discarded paperbacks, one of those books that I suspect must irk Australians as having been shoved down their throats as a classic and yet it is a really wonderful book, with similar goals and strengths to V. S. Naipaul's A House for Mr. Biswas (which still seems to me Naipaul's supreme achievement) but a distinctively Australian cast, George Johnston's My Brother Jack. Exceptional descriptive writing in a vein that has become, I think, almost obsolete in the contemporary novel, for better and for worse.

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