le plus loin le plus serré

le plus loin le plus serré
mourning art

in memoriam

"yet I tell you, from the sad knowledge of my older experience, that to every one of you a day will most likely come when sunshine, hope, presents and pleasure will be worth nothing to you in comparison with the unattainable gift of your mother's kiss." (Christina Rossetti, "Speaking Likenesses," 1873)

Saturday, October 28, 2006

a tidal wave of new books!

this fall has been a good time for me with new books - new releases, that is. The three of MAJOR significance:

Hilary McKay's Caddy Ever After
Diana Wynne Jones's The Pinhoe Egg
Lemony Snicket's final Unfortunate Events book, THE END.

I was delirious to see The Pinhoe Egg in the bookstore when I went in search of the McKay book. Somehow, I missed the news that a new DWJ book was coming out - it was a total surprise. Though I rarely buy new or hardback books, I snapped this one up in an instant. I felt SO decadent bringing the Jones and Mckay books to the register, along with three other first-in-series that I was buying for a friend's birthday (The first Bartimaeus, the first Stravaganza and the first Charlie Bone).

The Pinhoe Egg is another Chrestomanci book, but this one picks up where Charmed Life ended (well, roughly a year later). Cat is, once again, a primary character, along with Marianne Pinhoe, a girl from a neighboring village with enchantress-level magical gifts, and a very odd, secretive and nasty family, all of whom work with "the craft."

I think I will need several re-reads before I love this book; it's got some wonderful moments, and Cat is an outstanding character (and really true to his original character in Charmed Life). I've come to love Conrad's Fate, though the first time or two through I was skeptical. So though right now I am not especially raving about The Pinhoe Egg, I feel fairly sure I will come to like it more. And ANYthing by Diana Wynne Jones is about 10 times better than most every other book.

I found myself recognizing bits of magic from other DWJ books - there's a griffin (Dark Lord of Derkholm and Year of the Griffin - I'd love another book about those characters, incidentally); there are "hidden folk" of the land, and a number of earth or land-magics (dwimmer seems to be the term here), as well as some ancient magical history that reminded me VERY strongly of The Merlin Conspiracy. It doesn't feel at all like Jones is ripping herself off, or even recycling in a lazy or sloppy way; let's face it, griffins are pretty compelling characters to work with. I still can't clearly picture griffins in my imagination, but that's no fault of Jones's; I just cannot SEE a talking "human" bird/lion mix. It's the beak, I think, that perplexes me.

One slight quibble with Jones's books: her main characters always turn out to have insanely enormous amounts of magical talent. enchanter standard, all around. I do wonder what it would be like to have a main character who had only moderate quantities of magic.

There are some deliriously good touches in The Pinhoe Egg - Nutcase the cat (Jones does animals like no one I've ever read), the transformation of Woods House (those blue and green and white tiles....), the househobs, Jane James, and Irene - are all marvellous. Jason Yeldham, the herbalist, is also a great character, and makes me wonder if perhaps another book about Jason will appear - his travels around the Related Worlds gathering plants would make an AWESOME magical travelogue.

And Gammer's madness is hysterical. "Utterly dolphined" may be my new favorite sentence in any book.

As with any Diana Wynne Jones book: HIGHLY, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

R.A.B, yeah yeah

It's not much of a revelation to "speculate" that R.A.B. (the Horcrux-thief of book six) is Regulus Black, Sirius's brother (who was murdered by Voldemort 15 years before, aka the year Harry was born).

but i'm re-re-reading Order of the Phoenix, since HP is my comfort reading, and most of my other books are packed away for the move, and when the Gang cleans out the drawing room in Grimmauld Place, they remove (and presumably, throw out) a "heavy locket that none of them could open."

Merope is described as wearing a "heavy gold locket" that we know is Slytherin's.

So did HP and friends throw out the Horcrux? or maybe Kreacher nicked it from the rubbish sack??

More importantly, why do I spend so much time speculating about such things? I don't care nearly as much about what happens in the final book of The Series of Unfortunate Events (although i DO care quite a lot, and I'm eager for October 13 to roll around!), or what happens next in the Charlie Bone books (which I thought were sort of mediocre).

spells, spells, everywhere!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

I'm waiting....

to get over my latest Harry Potter phase. I always get thoroughly Pottered when major disruptions, like moving, occur. I don't know why this is.

I'm mildly obsessed with Slughorn, and I'm quite eager to see what Rowling does with him in the final book. I've chosen Luna Lovegood as my in-book counterpart (well, I did that ages ago - she's the character I most identify with).

I've re-read Half-Blood Prince twice in a week, and I - like every other person on earth - am wondering about Snape. What strikes me on these read-throughs is Snape's insistence - repeated insistence - that Harry not call him a coward. To me, this gives me a smidge of evidence that Snape is really on "our" side after all, that perhaps he is doing something desperately brave but must be misread as cowardly by everyone.

*** Aside from Pottering, I've been giving loads of brain-time to my Lilo & Stitch paper (unwritten, but in mind for years now). I'm seriously contemplating writing up a proposal and sending it off to the modern critical approaches conference (Middle Tennessee State, sponsor). UC Knoepflmacher is keynote speaker, and it would be fantastic to see him. I'd REALLY like to get another conference paper under my belt (so to speak) in the next year or so. and I'd like to hit the ChLA conference next summer as well, even if I don't present. Perhaps I'll be able to wrangle a bit of cash to get to that...Norfolk isn't THAT far from Pittsburgh, especially since I have friends in the DC area with whom I could stay to break it up.

Over on child_lit, a conversation about child prodigies has erupted, with some attention going to a person called Adora. Because I am largely out of the mainstream-media loop, I hadn't heard of her before, and after viewing this website, I feel both ill and angered.

I HATE trick children. Hate them. Not them, so much as the adults around them who put them on display. I haven't read any of this girl's writing, but I'm willing to accept that she has some talent, maybe even a lot of it. But her website is written in the third-person "Precocious and curious Adora!" who loves to help. Contact her for free editing! for advice on how to teach (THIS i have real issues with, for a variety of reasons). It sounds more like a product is being shilled, than a girl is being praised.

Her name is alarming, too; even a totally uninspiring, mediocre child named Adora would bring on my gag reflexes, but a child meant to be admired and - yes - adored for her precocity being named Adora? Ugh.

Okay. I just listened/watched a snippet of some morning show reading Adora's work, and I'm unimpressed. all her characters "said" their dialogue, but the presenters were just as awful and patronizing.

Adora's main skill seems to be typing fast - 60 words a minute!- and we "watch her go" on national tv.

exploited kid....I wonder what the scoop on her parents is?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

horace slughorn, and who is harry potter?

I'm moving soon - a Real Moving Castle around these parts - and somehow, the stress and insecurity of moving always triggers my Harry Potter reflex. I re-read Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince in the last few days, acquiring some new appreciation for both texts.

I still think HBP is a bit of a scam; so much backstory, in dragged-out detail; do we really need to revisit all of Dumbledore's memories along with Harry? The "point" of those memories could have easily been narrated in abou six pages, instead of 100. It felt at first reading, and still feels, a bit of a cop-out.

I've become interested in places where Rowling gives us a bit of complexity - Snape being the obvious locus of this. But Horace Slughorn is becoming a much, much more interesting character to me, and I am very curious to see what, if anything, will become of him in the final volume.

The most interesting thing about Slughorn is that we finally get a decent Slytherin, instead of the unqualified evil, nasty and cruel Slytherin students. Ambition is one of the defining characteristics of Slytherin, and Slughorn has ambition in spades, though it is that power-string-pulling, backseat ambition (this description makes Slughorn sound like a much more benevolent Karl Rove, actually). But Slughorn's ambition is not for evil, or even bad; it's self-serving, but it's obvious to me, anyway, that Slughorn isn't entirely selfish. He wins students over, handpicking those he likes, but in a way, doesn't Dumbledore do something similar? or even Hagrid? Slughorn's vain in a very stereotypically insecure way; he boasts about his connections to make himself look special and strong. But he only uses those connections to help other handpicked students, or to get pretty small-time perks for himself. a hamper from honeydukes? tickets to Quidditch? candied pineapple? these are hardly criminal activities. There's a thread of anti-fat prejudice in Slughorn's characterization, really.

Even his "preference" for pure-bloods isn't quite real; it seems more a generalization based on experience (limited or narrow-minded experience, but not really prejudiced or nasty). He has a real horror of the practice of Dark Arts, it seems; he acknowledges, in giving the sluggish memory to Harry, that he fears he did something very very bad in discussing Horcruxes with Tom Riddle. Slughorn has conscience, which seems to be utterly lacking in the Slytherin camp at large. And I think he does have general goodwill towards most people. He isn't interested in collecting less impressive students, but neither does he wish them ill.

And I feel like there is real friendship between him and Dumbledore; somehow, the first chapter in which we meet him ( "Horace Slughorn") makes me feel like he and Dumbledore used to sit around the fire in comfy armchairs, shooting the shit and taking the piss out of each other over fine oak-matured mead.

My final question, or issue, is that I feel like Harry is weirdly undeveloped. I feel like I don't know anything about him, who he is. This could simply be from re-reading so many times, but he feels weirdly flat, somehow. Or rather, he lacks interiority. I guess because of the third-person narration, I don't feel along with Harry; his emotional and interior life is reported upon, but not really engaged and made visible, made palpable, to the reader. He likes treacle tart, and going to the Burrow, and Ginny, Ron and Hermione. He cares about Quidditch (but why?). One thing that has always troubled me is the way he put all his emotional stock in Sirius, leaving Lupin utterly aside, even after book three, in which Lupin (I think, anyway) formed more of a connection with him than Sirius did.

so i feel like, though I can predict Harry's behaviors, I don't really know him. It's a weird phenomenon for me, not having a sense of who he is outside of his actions. He's an extrovert, I suppose, or at least i experience him as such.

Anyway: Books five and six are good, getting better with re-readings, and I especially like Book Five, I've discovered, because so much of it takes place in the Wizarding world outside of Hogwarts, which has to me always been the place where Rowling really shines imaginatively.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Montmorency (spoilers, sorry)

Prowling the wonderful Carnegie library in oakland, I stumbled across Eleanor Updale's Montmorency series .

Since the books seemed to combine two of my favorite things - children's books and Victoriana - I figured I should give them a try.

I've read the first three - Montmorency, Montmorency on the Rocks and Montmorency and the Assassins now, and I have to admit I am not sure how to feel. Updale is a better storyteller than she is writer, but even her storytelling is a bit rocky. The Montmorency books are peculiar in that they are children's books with no major young characters. This is not a flaw, incidentally.

The first book is fairly straightforward - Montmorency is a released thief who uses knowledge of the newly-constructed london sewers to steal a fortune, then give up a life of crime for a life of high society living. Along the way he is caught up in schemes, plots and international affairs with some prominent and titled friends. He develops a love of opera and amazing acting and impersonation skills; he is especially noted for his ability to transform himself from a gentleman to a poor man.

Then it gets weird (SPOILERS). In Montmorency on the Rocks, Our Hero has acquired an opium habit, and much of the book is spent trying to kick the habit. weird enough, but we also get Vi Evans as a more central character. Vi is the daughter of Montmorency's old slum landlady, and, like the landlady herself, quite clearly a prostitute. Why three gentlemen, one a lord, would be seen freely in public with a prostitute is a bit unclear (and strikes me as unlikely). But the real stumper comes in the last page or two of the book, when Vi announces that she's pregnant. perhaps needless to say, she is unmarried. This is scandalous for the 1880s, though not uncommon.

Book Three jumps us ahead about 13 years, which is also strange. Vi's son is 12 or so, and does not know who his father is. But all three central male characters (Montmorency, Lord George Fox-Selwyn and Doctor Farcett) believes himself to be the father. This means old Vi's been going at it with all three, which is rather racy in a book shelved in the children's room. More importantly to me, liaisons between Vi and any of the men were not hinted at in the slightest in the preceeding book. This is shoddy storytelling.

I also object to Updale's free hand with historical accuracy. For sure, she has a good grip on some aspects - the installation of the London sewers, various historical and political events, but the dialogue and, more significantly, relationships between characters seem wholly anachronistic. Everything to do with Vi Evans, even her name (which is Violet - the men call her Vi from the beginning, which is simply poor manners, even with a prostitute - she should be called Miss Evans) - reeks of the twentieth century.

The writing is tiresome at times; Updale is not a master of her craft. But I've found myself wanting to know what will happen next (and I see at amazon that the fourth book has already been published), and so I suppose I'll see this series through. I'm curious about reception by a child audience; the vaguely Sherlock Holmes/Victorian quality of the books could be equally repelling and attractive. The content - the opium addiction, this peculiar Vi, the political intrigue, which comes off as a stuffy, conservative Rule Britannia nationalism - may or may not be engaging for a kid, although that is always a secondary concern for me.

It's a shame, because in a lot of ways the original premise of the first book had a lot of potential. In more skillful hands, it could have been quite an astonishing series.

new home!

This is the new home of my children's lit blogging.....it was time for a change for a number of reasons. I'm also hoping to use this space more effectively and more frequently, especially as I really begin working on my PhD project. for now, this is where my moving castle has drifted.

(the title of the blog should be obvious to children's lit readers - after my favorite book, Diana Wynne Jones's amazing, amazing Howl's Moving Castle )