18 June 2011

What I've Read

I need to come up with catchier title for these posts.
You would think that as a library worker I would be able to come up with better words for book-related stuff. But I'm not at work just now, so hopefully, dear readers, you'll forgive my lack of cleverness.

Declare - Tim Powers
This WWII/Cold War supernatural, espionage thriller was excellent. I've only read two of his books but already I think I'm becoming a Tim Powers fan. I was very impressed by how well the story fit into the gaps between real events -admittedly I've mostly taken the author's word on this, but he seems like a writer who does his research. Declare was intriguing as at first I didn't know quite what was going on (much though I enjoyed The Anubis Gates I did guess a major plot point by the end of the second chapter). The supernatural elements unfolded far more slowly and were initially more subtle. It kept me reading as I wanted to know what was going on.
The book was only published in the UK last year, but was oublished in the US in 2001. The copy I read was an American version and I noticed that trousers were called 'pants', and pavements called 'sidewalks'. I'd be curious to look at a UK copy to see if that's changed.

I find the idea of UK to US translations odd, it's the same language just a different dialect. I've read plenty of US written and set books that didn't seem to be translated into English (UK). I've also read a US Harry Potter book which was entirely translated into English (US), that was very weird. Though possibly that was because Harry Potter is a children's series.

The Bloody Chamber - Angela Carter
This is my first Angela Carter. She is a writer I have heard loads about but somehow had never read before. This collection of short stories is based on several fairy tales. None are direct retellings. Some reflect the events of a particular tale, many just have the themes, while others are based on tales I couldn't identify. The stories all had women at the centre, told mostly from their point of view. There was much erotic and sexually-charged content mixed with the talking animals, metamorphoses and random magic that make up fairy tales.

The Bloody Chamber
By far the longest story, this eponymous tale tells of a young bride being brought to the castle of her older, widowed husband. The tale is full of description and the scene is set very thoroughly. The story itself felt a little contrived, though fairy tales often are, but the way it was told was excellent. Based on the Bluebeard story, with which I'm actually not very familiar.

The Courtship of Mr Lyon
A fairly faithful retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story, in which the Beast is especially lion-like. I liked the fact that Beauty is not simply the lovely, wonderful maiden that these tales often star. She almost forgets the Beast, dazzled by the high-life of London and a certain amount of careless self-interest.

The Tiger's Wife 
This story is also based on Beauty and the Beast, and was far weirder than the previous one. Full of odd imagery it tells of a young woman lost in a card game by her father and sent to the mansion of a lord, who seems to be a tiger in a human disguise. There's also a valet who seems to be far better at pretending to be human, and a robotic maid.

A tale told by a cocky tomcat about the antics of himself and his roguish, human master. The young man falls in love with a cloistered young wife, and he and his resourceful cat plot to remove the husband. The amorality and cynicism of cats is made plain here, and I found it all too believable (seriously this terrifying advert has it spot on). A more grounded story than most of the others and the only one told from a male point of view.

The Erl-King
This vivid description of a strange woodland man/creature is powerful. The simple plot is not totally clear as this is mostly a descriptive piece. I'm not familiar with the character described.

The Snow Child 
A strange, quick version of the Snow White story. The child or woman (not sure which) is in existance for only a short time and dies only to have her corpse violently defiled. I didn't really enjoy this story as much as the others.

The Lady of the House of Love
A Gothic story that combines some elements from Sleeping Beauty and Jack and the Beanstalk with vampire mythology. The female heir of Nosferatu lives isolated in her castle and plays Tarot throughout the night in a hopeless attempt to discover a cure for her vampirism. I felt as though the story also had resonant with The Lady of Shallot. I liked how the image of this long-lived, tragic, sensuous figure is subverted once the hero arrives and sees her only as a sickly, emaciated child. I liked the way this story was written. The glamour of vampires is something that needs subversion.

The Werewolf
A short and violent version of Red Riding Hood with a twist in the tale. Not sure who to sympathise with in this one.

In the Company of Wolves
A longer, closer version of Red Riding Hood, which seems a lot like the original version, or at least like the version told by Gilbert in Neil Gaiman's second Sandman volume, A Doll's House (I am a Sandman geek and can remember vast swathes of it very easily). In this version the young woman saves herself from the wolf and joins him on her own terms.

A story about a feral child who can't be civilised by well-meaning nuns and is sent to live in the home of a sinister, ghostly/vampiric Duke. This is mostly a story about coming into self-awareness, and is interesting for that itself. The background presence of the supernatural, bloody Duke adds a strange dynamic to the story, a wait for an ending that ends up far more positive than expected. I think the mirror and name might have been a reference to Lewis Carroll, but it wasn't very clear.

The Unwritten: Dead Man's Knock - Mike Carey & Peter Gross
I'm very much enjoying this Vertigo comic book series, now in it's 3rd collected volume. My preference for graphic novels means that I have a bit of a wait between installments, but I am a patient individual.

The series follows Tom Taylor, son of world-famous author Wilson Taylor, and inspiration for his father's globally popular boy wizard Tommy Taylor. Grown-up Tom has been living off the cache of 'being' a much loved book character since his father's mysterious disappearance. At a convention a woman claims that Tom is a fraud, a boy bought from an Eastern European couple in order for Wilson Taylor to lend weight to his work. Then a lot of weird stuff starts happening.
This is a series that looks at fiction, at stories, at literature in a fascinating and sometimes mind-boggling way, and also tells a good story for itself. There are so many references to literature, especially where literature collides with real, geographical locations. There's been a lot of mystery and unanswered questions, now I feel like some answers have been given and the shape of the overall story is starting to appear.
This particular volume includes an ingeniously-done choose your own adventure section that has you flipping back and forth through the pages. Not since Alan Moore's Promethea have a read a comic in such an unorthodox manner (although nothing has yet beaten Promethea's figure of eight storytelling that had me turning the book right the way round, twice).

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