mjj (flemmings) wrote,

The (dubious) pleasures of the text

Someone over on incandescens' FL was rhapsodizing about Barbara Hambly's Benjamin January series. I have one of those that I never got into, though the premise is fascinating: early 19th century New Orleans by someone who isn't Anne Rice, and the protagonist a free man of colour. For no reason I can pinpoint, Barbara Hambly's writing doesn't ping with me. A dozen years ago someone burbled about the Silicone Mage books and I never got anywhere with those either.

However, last night it was either English reading or the latest (mad, on acid, with tiny kanji) Papuwa or Woxin disk 5, so you can guess which I went for.

Years ago too I read a mystery set in modern day New Orleans, with a gay male protagonist. Loved it a lot and wish I could remember the title, but sent it to Jean in Japan and don't. (It had the classic line 'I'm gay with lapses', which is all one needs to say when you hook your gay male protagonist up for a one night stand with a woman. He *is* a gay man- the action makes that quite clear- and he does have lapses; or in this case, lapse. No big deal, and what a relief that was.)

That book contained the information that any white old New Orleaner has cousins of colour, and the Benjamin January books show you why: every white New Orleans male has a black mistress, and as with governesses in England, the demi-monde is about the only career option available for what are essentially the impoverished but middle-class daughters of these arrangements.

Is this depressing? Is the whole white/ black set-up depressing? It's depressing. As with Chen Daoming TV series Holocaust movies, I can't see anyone reading this for fun. 'Were it other than it is 'twere unhistorical: and I do not like it.' I suppose it's the genre bending that's thrown me for a loop. Murder mysteries are supposed to entertain, while diverting with background information and maybe, if you're lucky, a pleasing style. Benjamin January would go well enough as a mainstream novel with a murder in it: I don't mind if mainstream novels punch me around. I just feel kerblonxed when defined light reading does it, as I don't expect to be mugged in broad daylight on the streets of Toronto. Light reading and Toronto don't work that way, except when they do.

I also suspect that people who bear the de facto unbearable and endure the de facto unendurable of their society aren't aware every minute of how unbearable and unendurable it all is. Generally they can't afford to, and generally people accept The Way It Is as exactly that- shouganai, the way it is. OTOH Hambly may have felt that if she merely showed her viewpoint character unthinkingly accommodating the unbearable as part of his everyday reality, the way one does in RL, and left it to our 21st century feelings to respond with outrage, her white readers would think See it wasn't so bad after all. Yes, well; but I can't help feeling the message gets made at the expense of a certain amount of psychological convincingness, if that's a word.

So I suppose I must go back to Woxin 5, which is even bleaker; but at least Gou Jian eventually gets out of Wu.
Tags: reading_08

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