Monday, 4 September 2017

Down Among the Sticks and Bones

This book, on the other hand, I finished the other day. I must try and keep up to date with the reviews or the system falls apart (system??? what system?). Somebody recommended it, and there it was in the library catalogue. 'Down Among the Sticks and Bones' by Seanan McGuire is a prequel to 'Every Heart a Doorway', which I might or might not get around to reading. She writes a lot of fantasy series and if you're into that kind of thing then you will probably enjoy her writing. While I did eventually get engaged in the narrative the story spent the first forty pages or so making a very laboured point about enforced gender roles and parental expectations, a theme which persisted through the story. Jack and Jill escape the confines of their stifling parents through a trapdoor in their grandmother's trunk, that takes them down to a surreal underworld populated by vampires and mad scientists. Instead of sticking together in this alien environment they are driven apart by conflicting desires and find themselves on opposite sides of a longstanding feud. The two girls eventually develop some personality of their own, but are still confined by the expectations of their new protectors. 

"The man smiled. His teeth were as white as his lips were red, and for the first time, the contrast seemed to put some color into his skin. 'Oh, this will be fun,' he said, and opened the iron door.
On the other side was a hall. It was a perfectly normal hall, as subterranean castle halls went: the walls were stone, the floor was carpeted in faded red and black filigree, and the chandeliers that hung from the ceiling were rich with spider webs, tangled perilously close to the burning candles. The man stepped through. Jack and Jill, lacking any better options, followed him.
See them now as there were then, two golden-haired little girls in torn and muddy clothes, following a spotless stranger through a castle. See how he moves, as fluid as a hunting cat, his feet barely seeming to brush the ground, and how the children hurry to keep up with him, almost tripping over themselves in their eagerness to not be left behind! They are still holding each others's hands, our lost little girls, but already Jack is beginning to lag a little, suspicious of their host, wary of what happens when the three days are done.
They are not twins who have been taught the importance of cleaving to each other, and the cracks between them are already beginning to show. It will not be long before they are separated." (p.70-1)

So, in the new world the 'girly' one gets to toughen up and get dirty, and the 'tomboy' gets to dress pretty, so they don't really escape anything. It all felt a bit lame and added nothing to what could have been a good story about the bonds of sisterhood. I think I will probably stick to writing for grown ups.

Look at me

'Look at me' by Jennifer Egan came from a charity shop in Golders Green several years ago, conclusive proof that buying books and just putting them on the shelf for later is perfectly fine.

I enjoyed this book, she is a very clever writer, taking the most unlikely of characters and situations and making them engaging. 'Look at me' follows two different, though not unrelated Charlottes as they make sense of what life has dealt them.
My favourite character has to be Moose, one Charlotte's uncle, who's life has taken some interesting, often surreal, turns and as such leaves him with a very particular take on things:

"No. It wasn't fresh air that impelled Moose's walks to work; it was the fact that in an era characterised by, among other ominous developments, the disappearance of the sidewalk, he offered up as a gesture of insurrection his own persistence in walking where the sidewalk should have been. I may look silly, his thinking went, as he rappelled over wedge-shaped hedges between parking lots and sashayed aside for heavy-breathing Chevy Suburbans, but not nearly as silly as a world without sidewalks - indeed, my apparent silliness is merely a fractional measure of an incalculable larger silliness whose foil I am." (p.130)

I read this book a month ago, started writing this and then got distracted, and now barely recall it. I like to keep the reading record straight so I will leave you with the only other quote I noted down. Egan is writing mostly about American society, so I often found people's concerns a little bemusing, but despite the picture she paints she is plainly fond of the place:

"At last Irene's pen was moving. Pool-O-Rama, Tumbleweed, Stash O'Neill's, Happy Wok ... I felt proud! Proud of my hometown! Of its hokey ethnic restaurants, of its meticulous obliteration of the natural world. Of the vertiginous sense that we could be anywhere in America and find these same franchises in this exact order. Of Rockford's scrupulous effacement of any lingering spoor of individuality, uniqueness!" (p.395-6)


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