mjj (flemmings) wrote,

kickinpants sent me Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell in paperback. I'd looked at the thing when it first came out, looked at the size and the price, opened a page and found a paragraph about some military engagement, and decided it wasn't for me. But yesterday I opened the book as I was standing in my kitchen and looked at the beginning- and read three pages of small print by the fluorescent counter light, seriously stunned.

It was the same kind of sensory shock you get from eating fruit in Europe. It has flavour. You realize that's what's missing from our 'bigger is better' western produce. And so with books. Clarke's writing style has flavour. It's not just a bland swill of words. I'd forgotten how much I'd missed that, and how easily it goes down and what a pleasure it is simply to read.

The pleasure increases because it's the 19th century style that I expect to find only 19th century novels written in- and while the major English authors may be entertaining I pretty much know what Dickens and Thackery and Trollope are likely to come up with. They can't surprise me. The 19th century mindset is all familiar territory. But this is a modern book and the writer might do anything. She'll certainly do things Dickens and Thackery never thought of. It's truly the best of all possible worlds.

Reading isn't much fun for me these days. I read slowly, and the only books I can read fast are mysteries where I pretty much know what people are likely to say anyway, so the text slips by, pleasant and forgettable. Fantasy is a particularly agonizing slow grind. I don't know what people are likely to say there so I have to take it sentence by sentence, but the style almost never is a pleasure to read for itself.

As witness the other thing I'm currently reading, the first of Hobb's Liveship books. Plain declarative sentence after plain declarative sentence plod-plod-plod, with the added Hobbsian twist of detail-detail-detail, solid blocks of paragraphs that never actually do anything or give you important information but that aren't just ignorable bumpf. I think on balance that she's the most irritating writer I know. I'm sure she's a careful writer and thinks about all the stuff that goes into each paragraph, which is why you can't dismiss it. She doesn't pad. But equally she's never learned to cut, and cutting is what her books need badly. This thing is a bare 100 pages shorter than the leisurely Jonathan Strange itself, with two more books to come. No-one needs that much space to tell a story.

That said, so far at least it's not as bad as Fool's Errand. Her pirate is actually quite rivetting. Her spunky heroine and spunky heroine's mother OTOH drag, and she screws up badly when she has her characters thinking in overt Veblenian terms. Even the leisure class described by Veblen didn't realize why it did what it did. News to some people that sociology is a very recent discipline peculiar to late 20th century western society, and that other societies use different constructs, like religion or morality, to explain why their women don't go out to work.
Tags: reading, reading_05

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