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)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

apocalypse now!

My most recent reading all seems to be vaguely apocalyptic (post-apocalyptic, really) or just plain old futuristic sci-fi.

first up: Nancy Farmer's The Ear, The Eye & The Arm. Child_lit has been raving about this book forever, and for some reason I never looked it up. This is very unfortunate, because it turns out to be a FANTASTIC book. Really wonderful. I was completely captivated by the world Farmer creates in this book. The futuristic African society was a wonderful change from my normally relentlessly British and American-set reading. But I especially liked the Ear, the Eye and the Arm - their "superpowers," which the narrative never really explains (but the cover of the book says are due to radiation-induced mutations), were an inspired bit of genius. I like the idea of mutations having benefits, or being put to some use, and I suppose I also like that these are "natural" powers - though the result of mutation, the ability to hear and see and feel are not from technology. They come from the men's bodies. The Arm particularly captivated me, because I occasionally suffer from excesses of empathy. His extreme empathy made me wonder and sigh with fellow-feeling. The scenes when the Arm and the baby are mind-melding are exquisite.
My other moment of intrigue with this book: it's a futuristic society, with that post-apocalyptic feel (the trash people, the mutations), but it did not feel like a dystopia. I am very much used to futuristic books set in recognizably earthly locations having a dystopic aura to them, so this was a surprise. It got me thinking, though, about those categories: utopia, dystopia, and what they mean, how they apply to the Real World.

This became relevant when I read (irritably) David Levitan's Wide Awake, which is clearly a kind of utopia. I felt...annoyed reading that book. This is unfortunate because I liked Boy Meets Boy, and I really liked Naomi & Eli's No-Kiss List. In all honesty, I think what irritated me about Wide Awake was its utopianness. It felt falsely optimistic. I tend to prefer bleaker, more complex books; a utopia is a nice dream, but it's a little boring. It also annoyed me because it kept jerking me out of the narrative, and into contemplation of my own current moment, politically, economically, socially. Reading about a fictional "Greater Depression" at the same time the radio is blaring about the Subprime Mortgage and resulting Credit Crisis is not a reassuring thing. There wasn't much pleasure in the reading of this way, just a sense of frustration and a solid sense that: 1) things will never be that good and/or 2) i won't live to see it

I finally read my first Margaret Mahy book - a new one, Maddigan's Fantasia. I am not sure how or why I've never read any Mahy - it's just the way things fell out, I guess. I've only heard wonderful things about her work, so it's just one of those reading mysteries. Maddigan's Fantasia was quite good; it's after the apocalypse ("the Chaos") and set during the Rebuilding. The Fantasia is a travelling circus/magic/wonder show, that travels the "dissolving roads," bringing wonder from town to town. The Fantasia also seems to have certain geographical functions, as well as political and social ones: they are tasked with acquiring a solar converter to keep the main city running. In the meantime, two boys and a baby girl from the future show up to intervene in some crucial way that they don't yet understand.
Time travel always confuses me a little; I try to think it out maybe too logistically, and get confused - how CAN it work? how can you be in two places at once? or not at once? bah! the Time-Turner sequence in HP & the Prisoner of Azkaban always makes my head spin. But Mahy leaves the technicalities out, and also gives us Garland to focalize the entirely puzzling time-travel moments. She's as puzzled and mind-whirled as I was, which was a relief.
The book is quite good, with some wonderfully inventive moments - the chapters concerning a library absolutely charmed me to death (of course - libraries and books always do). I cannot say I really liked the ending, but it was an emotionally satisfying one (which is to say: complete, narratively appropriate, not jarring) if not what I would have wanted.
I will be reading more Mahy.

I also read The House of the Scorpion, again by Farmer. I think I've read most of it before, but I had no memory of the conclusion so - reading it (possibly again) was like reading it the first time. I quite liked it; I love the way Matt's movement away from the estate and out of the border country mirrors our own acquisition of knowledge about his world. The children's breakout from the plankton plant (eurgh!) reminded me forcibly of Holes. I did not mind being reminded of Holes, since it's a terrific book. The House of the Scorpion was nicely complicated, it seemed to me; people having to make decisions and choices with substantial repercussions.

Currently reading The Prophet of Yonwood, by Jeanne Duprau. It's actually pre-apocalypse, but apocalyptic in tone, and I actually have had to set it aside. It's the prequel to City of Ember, a book I quite love, and somehow knowing that the world (my world, our world, the world of Yonwood) is going to smash and ruin very, very soon is just a little too depressing. The apocalyptic world of the book is a little too like our own (all this talk of terrorists!) for me to feel safely distanced. I am not sure if I like the book or not, yet, but I intend to finish it regardless.

Other readings: Heck Superhero, which I loved. I want to teach it, badly. I'm not sure how or why or when or where, but I must teach that book.
Re-read The Amulet of Samarkand, and was reminded of how damn good the Bartimaeus trilogy is. I've read two other Stroud books - The last siege and - oh rats - the Burning on the hill (?) - and neither worked for me the way Bartimaeus does. I think Bartimaeus is one of THE best narrators I have ever read. Totally captivating, totally unreliable. I love the way the books explicitly point up Bartimaeus's unreliability, by alternating narrators. Those brief moments of overlap, when the third-person relates Bartimaeus's actions after Bartimaeus has narrated them are beautifully revealing of the flaws in Bartimaeus's character.

i feel lately like I've read up the library, and I'm feeling a little frustrated. I read so quickly! I'm craving longer books - actually, I have a craving for Angela Brazil-esque books. I've only read one of her books (Joan's best chum!) and it was so bad and good at once. I enjoyed it immensely, and I want more!

I can't keep re-reading Diana Wynne Jones in an infinite loop. I need new books!

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