Sharpe T., The Gropes, Arrow, 2010
I began reading Tom Sharpe‘s The Gropes thinking it might be good to have a laugh from time to time. And laugh I did. But maybe not the kind of laughter I expected or possibly not the kind I needed. If I said ‘restrained hilarity’ would that seem too much of a contradiction? I found the book extremely British: stiff upper lip combined with delirious humour that reminded me of Monty Python or the Goon Show. Under the cover of enforced normality the most absurd and catastrophic things happen. What interested me most – probably because I am exploring the question myself in my own writing – is the way Sharpe portrays how people continually tell themselves the wildest of stories about what happens around them and take those stories for reality and then act on them producing the most absurd, if not tragic results.
Collins S., Catching Fire, Scholastic, 2009
On the cover of my copy of Catching Fire, the second book of Suzanne Collins‘ The Hunger Games there’s a quote from Stephenie Meyer of Twilight fame saying: “The Hunger Games is amazing.” Amazing? Surely not the astonishment my dictionary mentions to explain the word. There’s a line inShakespeare‘s Romeo and Juliet when Benvolio beseeches Romeo to flee because he’s killed Tybalt saying: “Stand not amazed.” Amazed? Paralysed. Bewitched. Hypnotised at the sight of what takes place. Unable to move and to escape from danger. Do we not as readers stand thus amazed before the Hunger Games. Surely this is the amazement Stephenie is referring to. Gripping is too weak a word to describe the effect the book has on its readers. But surely there is no danger, you say. Does not the danger lie in being unable to move yet driven by the strongest of emotions? A friend on Goodreads wrote that she wanted to throw the 2nd book against the wall when she finished it such was her frustration with the author’s choice of ending. When I reached the end of the 1st book I wondered why I felt both exhausted and worked up. There was nowhere for those emotions to go. Lest it be to seep into my daily life where they didn’t belong. Now, having read the 2nd book, I believe I understand why. The book holds you bound in its spell while the story tears you apart emotionally. No wonder we feel elated and crushed and outraged and sad and angry and a host of other emotions at the end but have no satisfactory outlet for those emotions. At the root of the word ’emotion’ there’s ‘movement’. In other words, Suzanne Collins simultaneously nails us to the spot and incites us to move with the greatest force she can muster. No wonder we are exhausted. You don’t believe me? Try pushing and pulling a wheelbarrow at the same time. You get nowhere. It is very tiring and frustrating. Having said that, I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from reading the book, even if I believed I could. Let the emotions role.
Stiefvater M., Ballad, Flux, 2009
I greatly enjoyed reading Maggie Stiefvater‘s Ballad which in no way suffered from me not having previously read her earlier book, Lament. It was a pleasure to discover the unfolding relationship between a young, cocky musician and an all-powerful faerie bent on sucking the life out of him. The story literally overflows with desire and yearning and unrequited love and deep-felt hurt and cutting humour; a tale in which music is the prime mover.
I was wondering why Ballad reminded me of Julie Hearn’s The Merrybegot. Rereading the beginning of Ballad I think I found the answer: both authors give more than ample room to a wider range of senses than other authors. As a result, both books are very sensuous. However, Ballad has one key facet that is not in The Merrybegot: that sensuousness overflows into sensuality and beyond to potent sexuality, albeit held at arms length, like in the scene in the practice room on the piano stool.
The intense passion that gripped me as I read Ballad dissipated somewhat towards the end. One possible reason could be the incursion of other characters in the dense relationship between the two main characters. But a more likely explanation was the acceleration of the story and the need to conclude and resolve the plot before the end of the story whereas I would have preferred to have lingered with that relationship and kept the tension unresolved.
Mills K.E., Accidental Sorcerer, Orbit, 2008
The Accidental Sorcerer is the first book of the Rogue Agent series by K.E.Mills alias Karen Miller. A tale of magic, as the title suggests, but it is largely the magic of the characters themselves that is the strength of this book and the author. If you have read Karen Miller‘s The Innocent Mage and you remember Asher and his progressive transformation from a fisherman to a skilled but very likable statesman, you’ll know what I mean. The main characters in the Accidental Sorcerer: Gerald, an inept third-rate magician who seeds catastrophe wherever he treads: Reg, a bewitched bird whose tongue lashes out with hilarious repartee; Melissande, a princess disguised as an industrious frump in charge of the country’s daily affairs; not to mention Rupert, her butterfly-loving younger brother, … they are all both hilarious and endearing. Perhaps the least convincing is the villain king. It’s sometimes hard to believe in the atrocities he instigates, maybe because the author shields us from their full force.
The decor of this book is not urban but it has that density and the hedged-in nature that are often the hallmarks of urban fantasy. None of your airy-fairy lightness to the Accidental Sorcerer. Yet it does have a lightness to it that is born of the dialogues, especially those that involve Reg who tells-it-like-it-is but often in most amusing ways. I’m looking forward to reading the next of the series: Witches Incorporated.