Daleks of the Road

This instalment of the Dalek Game is forMichael Chabon’s novel Gentlemen of the Road. You will note I have not even attempted to approximate a reference to Gary Gianni’s entirely perfect illustrations.

The novel as a whole (the words, the green and gold cover in which I bought it, Gianni’s wholehearted images) is a fascinating performance, utterly styled without being stylised. Chabon performs genres beautifully, like the best of Shyamalan. Not like a quick, accurate costume, but something like an old tableaux vivant, with all the details right and breathing poses held still for admiration and inspection or… something. They aren’t dead at all, or false – he does literary fiction, or science fiction, or noir or (as here) Rider Haggard adventure sincerely, lovingly and very delightedly aware of the story as story.

Now that I think about it, this is what bothered me about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Not that someone had the idea, at all – I love that Seth Grahame-Smith not only had the idea but did something about it. But P&P&Z felt to me, at the end, like an exercise in a title. It had the brain, but never quite got to the heart. Whereas, while Chabon’s big ideas might easily be presented as equally odd as any of Grahame-Smith’s essays in juxtaposition, I lose myself in the world of the story, in the whole book, the thing itself, and forget the author’s cleverness because of it.

10+ books this month, and since that obviously makes too short a post, I have added features – where the book was acquired and what I thought of the cover. If I think of any more categories (or there are any suggestions which amuse me sufficiently) I may eventually be able to reduce these monthly reviews to a formulaic checklist which would at least make it more likely for me to get them out early in the month.  Next months’ review post will be shorter, with the unfortunate consequence that you won’t get to hear about Regency gentleman fighting with anacondas in Ceylon (for real! published before Pride and Prejudice! How have I gone this long without Gothic horror!) until after April.

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Obligatory Vanuatu connection… the Rivers, Trudgill and Sayers were all read in Vanuatu, in my little guest room/storeroom/library overflow at the top of the flats looking out over the Coral Motel to the port. If you want more specific information about Vanuatu, feel free to leave some suggestions in the comments ;)

Tales from Outer Suburbia – Shaun Tan. I was so looking forward to this book. And then I went and bought it and had it signed (and he drew a picture in my sketchbook as well) and as I flipped through it I thought, “Hmm, maybe my hopes were too high” because it looked wordier than his others. I WAS WRONG! I read it and cried on the bus home and read it out loud to my mother when I got home, and to my nephew in Canberra. The stories and pictures (and they breathe into and rely on each other) are beautiful and eerie and haunting – suggestive but not allusive (I do like allusion); elusive and original and funny and sad and just the way things should be or ought to be or are in Australian suburbia. Of course a sad home might be helped by an abrupt dugong. Of course there should be an inner garden between the rooms of a house (only in this country). I want to celebrate the ‘Nameless Holiday’ on the basis of a single scratchboard illustration (that and the gingerbread crows and pomegranate juice). ‘The Night of the Great Turtle Rescue’ went for one page, had no context and is the most suspenseful story I’ve read. ‘Stick Figures’ freaked me out more than Picnic at Hanging Rock. The story about what happens to unread poetry came true the very next day when I went to the busstop and found a bin of shredded paper had been tipped over in the rain. I now want a backyard missile (for entirely aesthetic reasons) and thanks to the answer of what is at the edge of a street map, my mother has been writing down her stories. There are so many styles of illustration: collage and oil and pencil and scratchboard – thin whispy figures, juicy colours, complicated text, faded salt-whitened suburban scenes. A beautiful and amazing book.

Little Brother – Cory Doctorow. I’m a Fahrenheit 451 girl: I don’t like the horrible inevitability of 1984 and I had a bad reaction to Brave New World. I like a touch of hope with my dystopias. And so I thoroughly enjoyed Little Brother, which was a combat-boot-first, high-speed, technobabble, name-dropping, near-future rollercoaster of a book. I read it in one day, a day on which I flew back from interstate, went to work and out to the movies after. It made me want to go out and do things, good and big and independent things, and to think about what governments and security are and do and are for. It’s available for free download and it’s fast and I don’t mean that (in this case) as faint praise.

The Yiddish Policeman’s Union – Michael Chabon. I enjoyed this very much, more than Kavalier and Clay (reviewed here). Literary genre fiction is a category I can definitely live with. This is a noir detective/alternate history set in the decaying city of Sitka, Alaska in the last days before the Federal District – created for Jewish refugees after Israel collapsed soon after World War II – dissolves and returns to American rule. It is perfectly noir (I do like hardboiled detectives) and odd and more real than some books I’ve read about real cities. It has seedy hotels and daredevil bush pilots and conspiracies and chess tournaments and was dark and funny and just an enjoyable book.

Redeeming Love – Francine Rivers. I’ve given a few answers I shouldn’t have, and I feel that telling the person who pressed this upon me that it was like The Da Vinci Code (I had problems with the theology, but it was very quick) was one of those answers. A resetting of the story of Hosea’s in  mid 18thc America, I found it – ugh. I had problems with the theology (especially that of guidance) and the representation of the author’s theology (ask me about Christian fiction sometime), the sex scenes (coy but more numerous than any other book I have read and I once spent a week with a bad back and nothing to read but Mills & Boon), the characters, their motivation, and the cover art. The best part was when Angel went off on her own rescuing people, and even that got a stop put to it. I found it unbelievable, ridiculous and often offensive and yes, I did read it all the night I got it. Like The Da Vinci Code, it moved at a cracking pace.

Sociolinguistics – Peter Trudgill. (My room in Vanuatu was part of the SIL library). Recommended. I don’t know how it compares with current theories, but it made me think about all the currents and debates and factors which go into language: culture, class, gender, ethnicity, geography, nationalism, politics. Also, it produced plenty of interesting facts with which to startle people at the dinner table. Everyone should read some linguistics, but I am starting to consider sociolinguistics a very useful area of study for authors.

Murder Must Advertise – Dorothy Sayers. The first Sayers novel I have read, and it was like Agatha Christie with a touch of Wodehouse. Or Midsomer Murders with a hint of Fawlty Towers. Remarkable observation of what happens in a workplace, numerous puns only excusable because it is set in an advertising firm between the wars, and kept me reading through the description of a cricket match which ran for an entire chapter. I will not object to reading more.

Also, James, 1 Peter and then I lost track.

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The Fourth Bear – Jasper Fforde. Alright. I laughed at some of the puns (the Oddly Familiar Deja Vu Club) but it wasn’t as sparkling as the Thursday Next books. The threats weren’t threatening, the comedy sometimes felt forced. I really like fairytale retellings, but I think Fforde handled retellings of literature better. I liked Jack Spratt – I have a soft spot for hard-bitten, even noirish, policemen with complicated pasts – but he was a bit too affected by his past and I didn’t like the way his ex-wife was portrayed.

The Pinhoe Egg – Diana Wynne Jones. Another “meh”, but within the context of the rest of DWJ’s books, so that’s a pretty good “meh” : ) Although Magicians of Caprona was one of my earliest favourites, I don’t rank the Chrestomanci books as a whole among my favourites of her books. I like the characters and the world but they often leave me feeling as if there is something more behind the background, some part of the story I can’t quite get at or which is still waiting to be told. But it has a cat who walk through walls.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay – Michael Chabon. It was an odd experience reading this, because the subject matter and milieu belong to genres I am used to (comics, graphic novels, magic realism, slight surrealism) but the book itself is a Novel, which does things differently, and is a genre which seems obliged to have more gritty sexuality in it and less satisfying endings than the genres I’m used to (although, as Novels go, the ending of this one wasn’t bad). A similar thing happened with Year of Wonders which I would have liked as an Historical, Fantasy or Alternate History novel but really took against as a Novel. I liked Chabon’s style, I really liked that he anchored the characters in history and made their fictional fictional creations (The Escapist, et al) seem so real I wanted to be able to pick up one of the comics and look at Joe’s drawing, or look for references to the characters and their creations in the anti-comic literature of the time. Usually this would bother me – I often feel cheated by reading historical fiction, but this fictionalised history paralleling the real rise of the comic book hero was excellent, interesting, entertaining, helpful and gratifying. I liked the faint elements of the fantastic and can’t decide if I wanted them explained or not. I’d have a hard time lending it for reasons of certain scenes.

Also, Song of Songs, and if you want to scar your children, read this aloud as a family with parts assigned appropriately.

Five books I’ve been waiting to read:

  1. Valente – The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden (recommended in New York, finally arrived at Pulp Fiction, begun!)
  2. Willingham – Fables: March of the Wooden Soldier (on order, picked it up from Daily Planet on Friday)
  3. Chabon – The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (Christmas present from Aimee, great first chapter and it mentions de Kruif’s Microbe Hunters!)
  4. Forbes – Return to Labyrinth (discovered thanks to Tansy Rayner Roberts, bought and dipped into with Aimee, much excitement but will be disappointed)
  5. Russell – History of Western Philosophy (part interest, part ‘use it or lose it’ approach to bookcase, chewed by mice)

Five books I’d like to get hold of:

  1. Rieber, Gaiman, Bolton – Reckonings: Books of Magic Vol. 3 (every other volume is still in print)
  2. Kaye – Golden Afternoon and Enchanted Evening (The Sun in the Morning was beautiful and thrilling and heart-wrenching and hilarious, and lauded The Far Pavilions, which covered much of the same territory but in fiction, was very disappointing when read immediately after)
  3. Gilman – The Balloon Tree (I adored this in year one – she had a secret staircase behind the fireplace!)
  4. Griffiths – Consistent Christianity (wonderful, slight, practical, solid book of applying and living out Biblical principles)
  5. A picture book about a family which opens a restaurant and one of the children serves jelly (or maybe peas) while on roller skates? Anyone?