A book of memories

Let me just start out with saying this: although this book kept me disinterested for 3/4 of its content, I have to say that when everything came together in the end, it was fairly intriguing and noteworthy to think about. And really, I’m wondering if my disinterest was a symptom of confusion as to how all the characters related to each other. So in order to entice more possible readers, know this:

Richard: Son of Inga Beart (famous writer), raised by his Aunt Cat, father to Neil; retired middle school English teacher, currently in Paris doing research on his late mother

Neil: Son of Richard; historian in France doing research with his Professor

Magdalena: Friend of Lina; girl who sees people’s truths on their skin, who meets up with Neil to exchange their parents’ Christmas presents

One thing that I think is really noteworthy about this book is not necessarily the plot, because the characters themselves don’t really do too many noteworthy things, but the reflections that the characters partake in, particularly their musings. SPOILER ALERT.

As they hiked up hillsides covered with olive groves, Magdalena listened to Rachel talk about her days doing junk, sleeping in doorways and robbing her mum, and it occurred to Magdalena that the things she’d gotten used to reading as her mother reached for a pan or changed her skirt or stretched out her toes to let the polish dry had something in common. They were stories Magdalena had heard as a little girl, or they were hints of stories her mother might someday decide to tell her, and a number included phrases in the imperative tense-don’t pick the thin-stemmed mushrooms, check that the butcher’s scale is zero to begin with-as if her mother had made notes across her skin of the things that Magdalena ought to know. (206)

Two sentences, in which they ramble on and on about her internal musings, not necessarily about the route she was taking or how hard the road was on her feet or how everyone was avoiding or annoyed by Rachel, who must’ve repeated her story five times to each individual person. This story focuses so much more on memories, thoughts, and reflections, which I think is why this book has such strong, well-rounded characters. They definitely have wants. Fears. And I think for a first book, Adelia Saunders did a great job crafting her characters. Her style is certainly unique. One of my favorite stream-of-conscious in the story is shown below:

Starts with Ellameno, Neil said once when it was his turn to choose a letter, and his dad thought that was so funny that they started making up a whole world populated with made-up fantastical things: the ellemenopede who liked to eat ellamenoghetti twirled around forks held in each of its ellamillion hands. (214)

The trick to Saunders’ reflections is not only the fact that she writes this huge enormous sentences (which could attribute to the book feeling so slow and drawn out), but the fact that most of her reflections are descriptions of a memory. She could’ve stopped at ‘they started making up a whole world filled with things starting with ellameno,’ but she goes beyond that memory, describing the actual scene of the world itself. Saunders has so many fantastic visual descriptions, which develop the whole life of the character. Because even as she describes this single memory, it evolved into other times Neil and his dad would spend time together, what happened when they didn’t, and what happened when they grew apart. I love how these 2 pages defined how their relationship changed before and after certain significant events. It really helped strengthen the characters.

Other than that, I like how this book also addresses our memories – maybe that’s a motif for this book – because while this book examines Richard’s singular memory of his mother’s red shoes, convinced she had come back to see him, this memory evolves as we learn more and more about his mother’s situation, which in turn shows us how memories are subject to your own delusions or interpretations.

SPOILER: I’m specifically thinking of when Richard finds out how his mother gouged out her eyes. Initially he was mad at his Aunt, thinking sooner or later he would’ve learned the truth that she went crazy and had caused her own death. But later he realized that she had gouged out her eyes because she didn’t want to see him when he was flown back to Paris to meet her. See page 259. 

So I’m going to stand by my opinion that I liked this book. I think it’s hilarious it was marketed under Science Fiction because although Magdalena can see “truth” on people’s skin (and it’s revealed a number of additional people can as well), this played a minor part of the story. It may have been the driving force behind a few of the character’s actions, but it didn’t play an enormous visual role in the story, which is typically how science fiction or fantasy books work. It was very subliminal, which convinces me to argue this is more of a fiction than a sci-fi piece. And although it’s slow, I think it’s still well worth it to pick it up and read.

Saunders, Adelia. Indelible. New York, NY: Bloomsbury, 2017. Print.

Splitting perspective like light

Phew. I’m exhausted. I just finished reading 624 pages of book, and it was a monstrosity of a story. Not monstrosity as in bad but enormous. A Conjuring of Light is what I would’ve called the equivalent of an epic. And that’s a huge change in tone considering its sister volumes weren’t anywhere close in length, at least, not in terms of page numbers.

About two brothers whose fates are intertwined, literally – the two brothers share a lifeline after what happened the previous story. I guess that’s what happens when you die and your brother’s a magician – they both are in the midst of a tragedy after a magic-demon takes over their city and threatens their kingdom. Oh. Did I forget to mention these brothers are royalty?

What I really enjoyed about this book was not necessarily its plot line, but it’s unique strategy in presenting that plot. I was used to reading this book from a few of the main characters perspectives, either Lila (magician of grey London) or Kell (magician of red London) or Rhy (prince of red London). But in this book, I read from multiple POVs. And plenty of them characters I’ve never heard from before. And that’s what I really want to examine in this post. So forgive its length.

Chapter Character Why their POV?
1.1 Lila Because she is testing her magic to the extent of an Antari, testing if she is in fact Antari, and if she can save Kell in time.
1.2 Holland To show that Osaron’s will had conquered Holland’s, that it was no longer Holland’s body but Osaron’s.
 1.3 Kell Because Kell’s magic is disappearing due to the collar, and Rhy is dying.
 1.4 Rhy Because he’s dying.
 1.5 Alucard Alucard can see the strands of magic, watch them disappear as the threads tying Rhy to this Earth disappear.
 1.6 Lila  Because Lila is fighting to save Kell, to save Rhy.
 1.7 Kell  Until Kell gets his magic back and fights to reach Rhy, realizing along the way that Lila had a fake eye the entire time. That she was Antari, like him.

As you can see, there’s no specific order to the perspectives. It just jumps from character to character, but I kind of like this method. If you notice the first 6 chapters, even though they center on different characters, they center on one plot-point event: Kell wearing the collar that saps your magic strength, making it so you can’t access magic at all. Leading to Rhy dying.

And I really like this idea because when you read a story, it feels very linear. This happens often when you see an event only from one character’s perspective, but when Schwab changes this pattern, showing us at least 5 different perspectives, it gives the event a sort of 3-dimensional perspective, almost like you were Neo in the Matrix when all the cameras went off to create a 360-freeze-frame effect. It’s a very good way to flush out an event and fill in a scene.

And if you haven’t notice, she doesn’t use the same characters every time.

Chapter Character Why their POV?
1.11 Osaron To reveal the arch enemy of all worlds, and how much he thrives in Kell’s magic-filled world.
2.1 Kisimyr Because even though Osaron can take over some people, for others, he burns through them too quickly. Part of the population of Red London dies like Kisimyr.
2.5 Lenos The man who has the sixth sense of foreshadow, and warns the reader that the demon king is taking over the city from a citizen POV.
3.2 Emira The queen and mother of Rhy, who regrets not better raising Kell, to use him as more of a guardian than a brother, even though it was part of that closeness that saved Rhy.
4.1 Nasi To show that scars are a sense of pride for London citizens; it shows that you’ve survived.
4.3 King Maxim Because the King is willing to do whatever it takes to save his city, same as his son and Kell.
6.1 Ned Tuttle To show how close Osaron is to taking over all the Londons, including the Grey.
9.1 Tieren  To reveal a small theme, that”Love an loss are like a ship and the sea. They rise together. The more we love, the more we have to lose. But the only way to avoid loss is to avoid love. And what a sad world that would be” (371).

As you can see, Schwab switches perspective quite often. But, there’s not as many as I initially thought. With this book, there are 13 different perspectives, as well as an omniscient perspective that pops up once or twice. But with fifteen sections, each with their own series of short chapters, this multiple POV doesn’t feel as overwhelming as it should in a normal-sized book. And because each character adds a piece to the resolution of the plot, it helps make this book feel like a world rather than just a theater, with the spotlight focused on one character or one perspective.

I think I would definitely feel inclined to use a technique like this in the future.

Schwab, V. E. A Conjuring of Light. New York, NY: Tor, 2017. Print.

Have I convinced you yet?

FYI. There’s so many SPOILERS in this post that you’re going to cry. Because this book’s been SPOILED. ← I feel like that could be a catch phrase. 

While this next book is also for YA audiences, I don’t think that should stop you from reading it. Cue The Golden Lily‘s entrance. The 2nd book in the Bloodlines series and the 8th book in the Vampire Academy universe, this book follows Sydney the Alchemist as she questions her entire existence, whether vampires and dhampirs are truly as evil and unnatural as the Alchemists have been led to believe. And while this book sells itself as a YA paranormal romance, including the stereotypical love triangle with the protagonist, it does a much better job than most books in the genre. Characters don’t like each other just for their hotness (although this does happen, just like with every other romance), they like each other based on the other’s actual characteristics.

And you’re also one of the most fiercely loyal people I know-and caring, no matter how much you pretend otherwise. I see the way you look after Jill. Not many people would’ve traveled across the country to help her. (136)

I also love how they’re willing to go out of their way just to make the other one happy:

Liquid sugar. Yes, that was exactly what it had been. I hadn’t wanted to drink one, but I’d known if I’d just brought a slush for Adrian, he really would’ve read that as pity and refused. I had to act as though I’d wanted one too, with him as an afterthought. He seemed to have believed my lie about the drink’s sugar content. (158)

I love how mundane a lot of these instances are. Reminds me of cooking steak for my boyfriend, even though I’m a vegetarian. You can go to great lengths to please someone you love (or like).

Sure, sunstroke and sunburns were concerns, but I loved the sun and had a high tolerance for it. Vampires did not…”Come on, we have to get out of here before you get worse. What were you thinking?” His expression was astonishingly nonchalant for someone who looked like he would pass out. “It was worth it. You looked…happy.” (307-308)

But, I don’t want to talk about their relationship, although I could spend forever talking about how great of a job Richelle Mead did. There’s so many hints and foreshadowing that the transition is really quite smooth. And she achieves the same smoothness in building-up/revealing the antagonist. But the facet I really want to focus on was how Mead had achieved a slow character reversal for Sydney.

First, Mead sets the standard; letting the reader see Sydney’s ideal perception.

We believed vampires were unnatural creatures who should have nothing to do with humans like us. What was a particular concern were the Strigoi-evil, killer vampires-who could lure humans into servitude with promises of immortality. Even the peaceful Moroi and their half human counterparts, the dhampirs, were regarded with suspicion.  (8)

But of course nobody’s perfect, so Sydney has her doubts of herself.

Despite all the running around [my Moroi/dhamphir] friends made me do, I’d missed that motley group almost the instant I left California…Now, feeling that way confused me. Was I blurring the lines between friendship and duty? (17)

At this point, the reader’s got the perfect exposition, all within the first chapter. And throughout the book, we should see a slow reversal until the book resolve itself with Sydney thinking completely opposite to how she originally was, where she believes that “I’d been taught the existence of vampires was wrong and twisted, but I was about to witness was the true atrocity. These were the monsters” (375). But a writer cannot automatically change a character’s POV. Readers have to be convinced, so hence, you have to convince them with a slow build-up, an exposition if you will.

And just like any persuasive essay, you have to tackle the haters first. Cue Sydney’s instinctual responses to her vampire friends.

I laughed out loud and immediately felt guilty. I shouldn’t have responded. (22)

But, we’re only human. We have to doubt ourselves, and doubt instills that idea: Is she doing the right thing? We then have to repeat this train of thought occasionally in order to remind the reader of the conflict of this plot: Are all vampires are monsters?

A bit of the anxiety from the bunker returned, making me question if what I did was truly Alchemist responsibility or the desire to help those who-against protocol-had become my friends. (36)

But she can’t help but have grown comfortable. They’re her friends. Of course that instinctual-evil reaction was going to dull over time.

It was a sign of my progress that vampires talking about “food” no longer made me hyperventilate. I knew she didn’t mean blood, not if the dhampirs and I were being involved. (47)

And yet there are some things she still can’t stand, showing how much progress she still has to make.

I could take a lot of Moroi things in stride now, but drinking blood-human blood-made me shudder every time. (91)

But when it comes to her friends, there’s nothing she won’t do. Especially when looking at her personality, showcased earlier in para. 3. She can’t help but help.

I knew all about what it was like to have a father who continually judged, whom nothing was ever good enough for. I understood as well the warring emotions…how one day you could say you didn’t care, yet be yearning for approval the next. And I certainly understood motherly attachment.

You don’t have to help, my inner voice warned me. You don’t owe him anything. You don’t owe any Moroi anything that isn’t absolutely necessary…”Okay,” I said. “I’ll do it.” (103-104)

And when someone finally returns the favor, you can’t help but grown more comfortable. More appreciative. More trusting.

“How many times does she have to refuse?” Adrian demanded. “If she doesn’t want to, then there’s all there is to it.”

I dared a peek at Adrian. He no longer look angry, but there was still a fierceness there. It was almost…protective. A strange, warm feeling swirled in my chest, and for a brief moment, when I looked at him, I saw…safety. (108-109)

Leading to this nice back-and-forth of helping each other, until the characters reach some sort of threshold of trust.

Skipping lunch wasn’t going to compensate for those calories, I thought glumly…I suddenly felt stupid for even attempting this ruse…Then, I thought back to that brief moment by the car, and Adrian’s fleeting look of contentment. (159)

And then finally realizing that not everything is black and white.

Adrian using spirit to bring Jill back from the dead was still a troubling matter for me. Every bit of Alchemist training I had said that kind of magic was wrong…At the same time, whenever I saw Jill bright and alive, I was convinced Adrian had done a good thing. (161)

That you have to look beyond preconceptions to the person underneath.

“I did it because he wasn’t fair to you. Because you deserve credit for what you’ve done. Because he needs to realize you aren’t the person he’s always thought you were. He needs to see you for who you really are, not for all the ideas and preconceptions he’s built up around you.”(243)

Of course, Sydney goes on to demonstrate how much she’s grown to trust her vampire friends, such as on p. 299, p. 306, and p. 320. I loved watching her questioning herself, even as she grew more comfortable, always wondering did she make the right decision? This doubt is what makes her seem human, makes the character seem real. And by supporting her acceptance of vampires with multiple scenes, Mead reinforces Sydney’s decision, that not all vampires have to be evil. And not everything is black and white. You have to look beyond those original ideas and think for yourself.

I think Mead’s major strength in enacting this is reflection. Because she drew attention to the same idea multiple times, she forced her character and the reader to consider this topic. She treated this reversal as a persuasive argument by first presenting the idea and then slowly presenting supporting scenes that would prove that vampires could be good people too. Which leads me to my final question, have I convinced you to read this book yet?

Mead, Richelle. The Golden Lily. London, England: Penguin Books, 2012.

A moment of illumination

I thought I loved this series, but then again, it’s been a while since I picked it back up. So when I did, I found my whole experience could be summed in the following paragraph:

I saw him.

And he saw me.

He stood at the end of the aisle in his true form, shining as bright as a diamond. He didn’t look any different than the rest of the Luxen, but every ounce of my being knew it was him. The very cells that made me who I was snapped alive and cried out for him. He still was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. Tall and shining like a thousand suns, edges shimmering a faint red. (29)

He’s beautiful. I get it. He’s also your one true love, perfect for its general audience, meaning any teenager learning how to cope with their feelings. He’s a heroic, overly-protective male protagonist who will do anything for his girlfriend, and even though she’s not weak, this does fit the standard fairy tale with him saving her most of the time. This book continues along the lines of its previous rang, each character obsessed with the beauty of the other. Both barely out of high school. Both thinking only of sex, which surprisingly this book has a lot of. Not with an excess of details but with a copious number of appearances, more than I expected for a YA book. At least it does present the discussion of safe sex. Multiple times, the protagonists have pointed out the necessity of condoms. SPOILER. Don’t want to end up like Beth, do we?

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the book, I did. But, I found it so less rounded than I have other books. The only other compliment I found, besides each other’s hotness, was the following paragraph here:

“You’ve got a big heart, Kitten.” His lips cruised over mine as he spoke. “That’s what I love about you most. Well, that and I am a really big fan of your sweet body, but your heart? Yeah, that completes the package of you, wraps it up with a nice little bow. It makes you perfect to me.” (281)

Well I’m glad she has a heart. At least now I’m no longer standing in a puddle; my feet are getting wet. But remember back at the beginning where she tried to save that little girl, getting herself captured and nearly killed? She hardly spends a moment mourning her passing, having a quick recollection that ‘the Luxen were probably too fast for her.’ I still don’t feel like she has a lot of compassion. More than she has morals. And is willing to go to any lengths to keep her husband happy. (Btw, they’re married.)

No. What I really enjoyed about this book, and what made this one stand out from all its siblings, was the following statement.

“We’re connected-all of us. From the moment they came, we’ve been inside one another’s heads. I’m not sure how it works. It’s never been like this before. Maybe it’s because there are so many of us here, but when I’m in my true form, there’s no hiding from it. It’s not too bad…now. There are things they don’t know, that we’ve been able to keep from them, but I’m not sure how much longer that’s going to work.” (75)

I thought this was the most interesting part of the series and this book. Jennifer Armentrout has not only created a unique species, one created from energy and light, but a species opposite of ours, having no individuality once their species has congregated on Earth. With so many present, they behave as a hive, sharing each other’s thoughts and feelings, not having any of their own. Which in itself is interesting. It would mean our instant destruction since they could coordinate attacks perfectly, and we would be too slow, humanity taking too long for consensus. I also thought it was cool that this weakness (or strength) could be combated by having a human-lover, since being attracted to our individuality meant they earned some of their own. I really appreciated this facet. It also would’ve been nice to explore this theme a little more, since the concept of individuality opens up the theme of choice, but alas, this book is for teenagers. But at least it discusses the topic of safe sex.

Armentrout, Jennifer L. Opposition. Fort Collins, CO: Entangled Publishing, 2014. Print.

Seeing is believing

Here it is one-thirty AM, where I should be in bed, but I can’t go to sleep just yet because I finished this book, and it’s been so long since I’ve read (and read one this good) that I have to talk about it. Even if it means sacrificing my sleep.

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood.

I feel like while reading this book, I should feel dirty. A guy in love with an eight-year old child; and then a thirteen-year old feeling in love with a 24-year old. It seems like something you would read in the arrest section of a newspaper, except this story is everything but that. This story is about the love between two people learning to care for each other, no matter their differences and their history, even considering all their eccentricities. And, the only reason I can believe for why it feels so real is because of the history Greenwood has built up between the characters.

While reading, you may become annoyed at the chapters. So direct and pointed, they quickly get at their purpose, which can make things seem choppy at first. But it also reveals much of the characters’ history, traveling an expanse of years, all the way from Wavy’s age of 8 to 21. And even though it changes character perspective a lot, instead of distracting from the story, This reinforces Wavy and Kellen’s love. Being too close to the characters could easily lend the belief that their love is blind, who may not realize what they’re doing is wrong. But, by focusing on outsiders’ perspectives, letting the reader see how many other people can see and believe in their love, I think it helps the reader that much more believe in their love as well.

I think it also helps to have so much of their history in the story. It may slow things down at first, but it quickly picks points out the depth of their love:

  • How Kellen enrolls Wavy in school, even when her parents neglect
  • How Wavy helps Kellen when he falls off his bike on the road
  • How Kellen has patience for Wavy’s pecularities with food, touching, and talking
  • How Kellen defends her from her father’s abuse
  • How Wavy will cook for Kellen, help him with bills at work, win him money at poker since she is so much better at numbers than him

That and it picks out all the quiet moments of love. Love doesn’t always have to be sex, touch, and tension. Sometimes it’s just the moment of lying quietly together in silence. Just having the presence of each other is enough to make you feel at home.

Greenwood, Bryn. All the Ugly and Wonderful Things. Thomas Dunne Books, 2016. Print.

 

Nugget: Metaphors are golden

You know when you spend more than a few pages on a metaphor that you really like it.

Like, I’m wondering at this point if Neal Stephenson was an old miner, or if he had been one of those tourists at some point, where he decided to try gold mining with a little metal pan and a bucket of dirt, only succeeding in getting those tiny flakes of gold dust. (You know what I mean if you’ve tried it.)

But Stephenson loves gold. Almost as much as he likes metaphors, and he’s really good at it. He spends a good portion of this chapter-set in the Newtowne, Massachusetts Bay Colony on October 12, 1713-talking about his gold metaphor. Exactly four pages of it. Which doesn’t seem like a lot, but it gets hilarious when every flashback to a memory begins with

Nugget:

But, here’s how his series of memories starts. Or, at least part of it. 

In years since he has rarely gone back to those old memories. As he does now, in the tavern near Harvard College, he’s startled to find that the muddy whirl has been swept away. The mental pan has been churning for fifty years, sorting the dirt and sand to the periphery and throwing it off. Most of the memories are simply gone. All that remain are a few wee nuggets. It’s not plain to Daniel why these impressions have stayed, while others, which seemed as or more important to him at the time they happened, have gone away. But if the gold-panning similitude is faithful, it means that these memories matter more than the ones that have flown. For gold stays in the pan’s center because of its density; it has more matter (whatever that means) in a given extent than anything else. (47-48)

I know that was a rather long block quote, but I really love it because of the metaphor he aligns with his memory. A person is prone to forget, and it is similar to gold, where only the worthy pieces (the ones with more weight) are left behind, where everything else is thrown away, back into the sand and water.

It makes me wonder how much time he spent on this metaphor. Whether he knew he wanted one here; if he initially wrote this in; or if he went back and changed this after he had come up with the idea of gold.

Either way, he was happy with it, because he used his “Nuggets” to begin each memory in order to literally create a quick history for Daniel for information we might need to understand him. Literally a sentence or two to create a brief image that can help us understand his beginnings.

And before I go, there’s one more metaphor I want to show you that I really liked. Again, also related to memories.

The conversation might not have gone precisely this way. Enoch had the same way with his memories as a ship’s master with his rigging-a compulsion to tighten what was slack, mend what was frayed, caulk what leaked, and stow, or throw overboard, what was to no purpose. So the conversation with Clarke might have wandered into quite a few more blind alleys than he remembered. (33)

So for my last question to you, how do you come up with metaphors like these? Or, what are your favorites?

Happy reading!

Stephenson, Neal. Quicksilver. New York, NY: William Morrow, 2003.

Love, Hate Relationship

Imagine 4 people in a room. Let’s name them: Jim, Neil, Tom, and Flarbb—because I can. Normally, if you’re trying to write a dialogue between these four people, it would either be narrowed between two for a standard back and forth. Like…

Neil and Tom walked to the other side of the room to gaze admiringly at a tall vase that didn’t house any flowers but should, because, what was the purpose of a vase if it didn’t house any flowers?

Meanwhile, Jim complained about Flarbb’s wife. “Betty cooked me dinner, again. Can you believe her?”

“She was just being nice,” said Flarbb. “She loves your company.”

Or, you add two more people by adding names.

“Quit ragging on Flarbb, Jim.” Neil gazed hotly at him. 

Tom had to pull Neil back, worried about his friend and his history of violence. “Come on buddy. Let’s go back and look at that vase.” 

Now, I imagine that’s everyone’s normal dialogue. Dropping names when the reader can pick up it’s only two people going back and forth. But, have you ever dropped everyone’s names? Read this by Neal Stephenson:

“Dr. Waterhouse, you must be warned, has fallen quite under the spell of Herr Leibniz—”

“—him that stole the calculus from Sir Issac—” someone footnotes.

“—yes, and, like Leibniz, is infected with Metaphysickal thinking—”

“—a throwback to the Scholastics, sir—notwithstanding Sir Isaac’s having exploded the old ways through very clear demonstrations—” (17)

What I like about this is that it quickly fills a room with voices without creating the people to go with them, effectively creating a noisy crowd, the kind that has to interrupt itself like fifteen times. I love it. I find it really difficult to juggle multiple characters since it’s hard to carry that many voices on a page without it sounding repetitious with all the names, like Jim told Neil who yelled at Flarbb, etc.

What I don’t love but hate—not really hate, but for the purpose of the title, let’s call it hate—is that none of these voices have faces. And I know you’re thinking isn’t that what you just said you loved, but dang nabbit, I’m not finished. None of these voices have faces, and this isn’t a one-time use thing that he does for the purpose of this ‘crowd.’ Stephenson actually does this a lot with all his characters, even the important ones.

“I defer to you, sir.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“But without seeming to be a Cavilling Jesuit, I should like to know whether Wilkins’s urine is a product of Art or Nature.”

“You saw the jar.”

“Yes.”

“If you take the Rev.’ urine and pour off the fluid and examine what remains under the Microscope, you will see…” (123)

Now, this is just a random example, where Stephenson goes for 6 lines without naming people, and I don’t know what is the magic number for a maximum number of lines without naming anyone, but I have seen him go longer than this.

The reason this bothers me is because of the talking head syndrome. I like to see how characters are interacting, what their hands are messing with, how their faciial expressions are changing. I don’t like to read just voices going back and forth – for most of the time. There are exceptions like this one. But for the rest of the time, I get bored or distracted, especially since there are always names I don’t recognize, in which I’m too lazy to go back and figure out who this is and why we’re talking about them.

In summary, I’d say the love/hate thing accurately describes my relationship with this book. I’m on page 224 out of 335, which is only book one of volume one. (There’s three books in this volume.) And at times, it does go faster, but then I hit ruts like the one I’m in right now, in which it just drags and drags, and I don’t know why I’m reading about the things I do, but hopefully it gets better from here.

Oh well…Happy reading!

Stephenson, Neal. Quicksilver. New York, NY: William Morrow, 2003.

Eureka! Talk about theme!

I finally figured it out why I liked this book, and it took me two days and nearly two nights, but before I reveal its secrets, let me give you all the spoilers first!

Starting from the beginning:

“You would have searched a long time for the sort of winding lane or tranquil meadow for which England later became celebrated…In one such area on the edge of a vast bog, in the shadow of some jagged hills, lived an elderly couple, Axl and Beatrice. Perhaps these were not their exact or full names, but for ease, this is how we will refer to them.” (3-4)

Notice how it starts with a wide lens, slowly narrowing focus until the reader is imagining the main characters for this novel: Axl and Beatrice, an elderly couple who had lived with each other for who knows how long as husband and wife.

As from my previous post, we know now that the couple were searching for their son and remember by the end of the novel that he had already died, so there was nothing to visit but his grave. But this is not how the story concludes.

This is the end:

“We’ll talk more on the island, princess,” he says.

“We’ll do that, Axl. And with the mist gone, we’ll have plenty to talk of. Does the boatman still stand in the water?”

“He does, princess. I’ll go now and make my peace with him.”

“Farewell then, Axl.”

“Farewell, my one true love.”

I hear him coming through the water. Does he intend a word for me? He spoke of mending our friendship. Yet when I turn he does not look my way, only to the land and the low sun on the cove. And neither do I search for his eye. He wades on past me, not glancing back. Wait for me on the shore, friend, I say quietly, but he does not hear and he wades on. (317)

I know that’s a lot to paste in here, but I wanted you to see that the end of the novel does not focus on any of the five conflicts I listed earlier, not on the son or the dragon or the boy, Edwin. It focuses on none of them.

The novel instead focuses on the same lens as the beginning – still zooming in on the couple, but not with their being together, but instead them breaking up. This means that by creating this perspective, by emphasizing their togetherness, that this novel is not about any of these previous conflicts but their elderly couple’s relationship.

Here is my argument…

 Conflict Effect on Couple’s Relationship 
 Visiting their son By finding out he died, we learn that the wife was unfaithful to the husband, pushing their son to leave, blaming herself for his death (due to the plague). In turn, it’s revealed that the husband banned her to visit their son’s grave, as some part of vengeance due to her infidelity.
Killing the vicious dragon Through the use of the dragon’s mist, it erased all memories, leaving only shallow relationships between people. This erased all the good and bad memories, and gave the illusion of faithfulness and a lack of problems, which we learn later was untrue with the couple. It’s one’s endurance in the face of these memories that can make a relationship true love.
Losing his identity as King Arthur’s knight Throughout this book, it’s revealed little by little how the husband had committed an atrocity by killing women and children under the order of King Arthur, and while he did not approve of it, he did commit it. By showing how Axl refused to come to terms with this memory, refused to reveal it to his wife, this shows he cannot come to terms with negative memories, cannot handle their weight, which supports Axl’s later decision of refusing to reveal that he banned Beatrice to visit their son’s grave due to petty vengeance. He cannot endure the hardships that come with a real relationship.

Note there is one more argument with how Beatrice is paranoid about the story of the boatman and the island, and if you read the novel, you can see her multiple experiences with this story, how multiple old maids who are always husband-less, which is echoed in the end of her story, but this is for another time. 

As you can see, the fact that this novel uses these multiple conflicts to stage this bigger truth is what makes this novel so strong. I know it can be random; I know it can be slow, but the fact that it takes the time it needs to show the reader that memories are what makes a relationship work. If you can endure the good as well as the bad, if you can communicate, than that’s true love…this novel combats all the fictional fairy tales of princess and prince, and I’ll definitely save this one for my book shelf!!

Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Buried Giant. New York, NY: Vintage International, 2015. Print.

Stringing your reader along

I don’t know where it is in this book, but I swear I remember it saying that King Arthur had disappeared. You see, in Ishiguro’s book The Buried Giant, there is a man and his wife traveling to their son’s village. And in the midst of their journey, they encounter a warrior.

“That warrior’s an admirable fellow, didn’t you think so, princess?”

“No doubt,” [Beatrice] replied quietly. “But that was a strange way he had of staring at you, Axl.” (73)

At first, this made me think that this warrior was their long lost son. What irony that would be! But, without the author revealing more, I had to continue, at least until this came up again. This time the warrior, Wistan, was asking another knight to gaze upon Axl’s face.

“I beg you, sir, look at this man beside you and say if you’ve ever seen him in days past.”

Sir Gawain gave a chuckle…But as he gazed into Axl’s face, his expression changed to one of surprise—even shock. Instinctively, Axl turned away, just as the old knight appeared almost to push himself backwards into the tree trunk. (108)

Again! There’s something in Axl’s face that everyone recognizes, which leads me to believe, what would two knights have in common? A king perchance? I don’t even remember if it  King Arthur was missing, or what was his role in the plot, but with this ‘fog’ causing all the people within the land to forget, I have to wonder that if Axl plays a bigger role than we thought, especially with the way he keeps remembering more and more of his warrior-like past.

Then, finally, I get more of a reveal on page 180! Tell me if this isn’t irksome.

“Sir Gawain, were we not comrades once long ago?” [Axl asks.]

“The mist hangs heavily across my past,” Axl said. “Yet lately I find myself reminded of some task, and one of gravity, with which I was once entrusted. Was it a law, a great law to bring all men closer to God? Your presence, and your talk of Arthur stirs long-faded thoughts, Sir Gawain.” (180)

Right now I’m on page 204, trying to find out more but really struggling, not because I don’t like the book, but because I think the constant jumping back and forth between memories has thrown me for a loop. With my skim reading and how subtle Ishiguro’s style is, I miss a lot of the transitions taking me into a character’s memory, and it really pushes me away when I get confused in the layers of action. I’ll have to focus on this later, and discover why it messes with me so much.

Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Buried Giant. New York, NY: Vintage International, 2015. Print.

Revealing your background

They followed him, just a short distance behind, the monk continually glancing back at them over his shoulder.

The monastery buildings were now dark shapes against the setting sky. As they drew closer, the monk paused, moved his forefinger over his lips, then continued at a more cautious pace. (147)

This is an interesting paragraph, not because of the lack of dialogue and constant motion, but because of the method of how it draws your eyes. And thus reveals one of my weaknesses.

I love to focus on the movement of a character, so if we cut everything down to just the character, the me-version would read as follows:

They followed him, the monk continually glancing back over his shoulder. As they drew closer, the monk paused, moved his forefinger over his lips, then continued at a more cautious pace.

It’s like it paints half a picture, just like the old television shows where Scooby Doo and Shaggy were painted in these bright pastels, always moving since they were in the foreground, while the background was dark and shadowy, never changing.

And, if I wanted to add the background, I would use the movement of the character to draw the reader’s attention to it.

They followed him, the monk continually glancing back over his shoulder, which prompted them to turn back and stare at the monastery buildings behind them, dark shapes against the setting sky. As they drew closer, the monk paused, moved his forefinger over his lips, then continued at a more cautious pace.

Of course, it gets very repetitious when I have to keep saying stared, looked, watched, peeked, glanced, gazed…their eyes followed… It’s much easier to do it just as the way Ishiguro did. When you expect a character to turn and look at something, don’t start with the character, immediately jump into the imagery instead. Just like Ishiguro.

There is an alternative, and I almost prefer this one…

They followed him, the monk continually glancing back over his shoulder, watching in case anyone left the monastery buildings behind them, in case anyone was following. As they drew closer, the monk paused, moved his forefinger over his lips, then continued at a more cautious pace.

I like this one better for 2 reasons: 1) the character is interacting with his environment and 2) there is some reflection on the action itself. Right when I mention”in case anyone was following,” you can see the characters are worried and careful. I think this draws a reader more into the story, although Ishiguro’s way can be described as a more artful way, since it really shines on the imagery.

But I guess it really depends on which effect you like the best.

Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Buried Giant. New York, NY: Vintage International, 2015. Print.