Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Tuesdays on the Margins: The Library at Mount Char (for real this time)

Okay, to revisit the post where I talked about this and then went off on several tangents and didn't actually get around to this actual book - a bunch of books on my ereader that sounded cool and different and exciting, wasn't sure how it would actually turn out, would they realize their promise of transportation and transcendence or would all be mushy mediocrity, blah blah blah.....


I hate saying that, because I'm fresh off a couple of books that were EXCEEDINGLY mediocre and the Goodreads reviews were ravingly positive (remember how I resolved to only read good books for a while? Turns out it's hard to tell a good book from an indifferent book sometimes, and when they're on your Kindle already... well, let's not talk about it, it's still a little painful). But you know me - you know I don't say this kind of thing about a book lightly, right?

Goodreads synopsis: Neil Gaiman meets Joe Hill in this astonishingly original, terrifying, and darkly funny contemporary fantasy. 
Carolyn's not so different from the other human beings around her. She's sure of it. She likes guacamole and cigarettes and steak. She knows how to use a phone. She even remembers what clothes are for. 
After all, she was a normal American herself, once. 
That was a long time ago, of course—before the time she calls “adoption day,” when she and a dozen other children found themselves being raised by a man they learned to call Father.
Father could do strange things. He could call light from darkness. Sometimes he raised the dead. And when he was disobeyed, the consequences were terrible. 
In the years since Father took her in, Carolyn hasn't gotten out much. Instead, she and her adopted siblings have been raised according to Father's ancient Pelapi customs. They've studied the books in his library and learned some of the secrets behind his equally ancient power. 
Sometimes, they've wondered if their cruel tutor might secretly be God. 
Now, Father is missing. And if God truly is dead, the only thing that matters is who will inherit his library—and with it, power over all of creation. 
As Carolyn gathers the tools she needs for the battle to come, fierce competitors for this prize align against her. 
But Carolyn can win. She's sure of it. What she doesn't realize is that her victory may come at an unacceptable price—because in becoming a God, she's forgotten a great deal about being human.

Normally the "whoever meets whoever" thing isn't borne out by the reading at all, but in this case Neil Gaiman meets Joe Hill is pretty dead on. I would throw in shadings of Terry Pratchett also. "Original, terrifying and darkly funny" isn't wrong either, although the terrifying is dialed way, way up, with accompanying accents of horrifying, soul-rending and nightmare-inducing, and the darkly funny is more like salt in soup - the soup would be unbearable without it, but it's not obvious. This book is most certainly not for the faint of heart, or the delicate of sensibilities, is what I'm saying. It should maybe come with a warning label. But to borrow from good old Aristotle, if you're looking for a heaping helping of cathartic pity and fear, look no further.

For the first little bit, you have no freaking clue what's going on, which is sort of appropriate, really. There are some strange characters, and then there are a couple of really sympathetic characters, and when you realize that the sympathetic characters are getting wound up in the bizarre machinations of the strange characters you're all hand-wringy and tenterhooky. Then things start to become clearer and you're all JESUS CHRIST these are the abhorrent, repugnant fabrications of a diseased imagination. And then you kind of settle into it and you're all, well, did you really think the universe could be made and reality controlled without breaking a few eggs, and yeah, I could see how OH DEAR GOD, TOO MUCH, TOO MUCH. 

And in the midst of all of it there are moments of flat-out hilarity, the kind you don't get unless you're already keyed to the screaming point. And the children discussing Father's friends: "'Some of the others we don't see much. Like Q-33 North.' 'Is he the one with tentacles?' "No, that's Barry O'Shea. Q-33 is the sort of iceberg with legs, remember? Up in Norway.' 'Oh, right.'" And some really cool stuff about lions. And a chapter called "About Half a Fuckton of Lying-Ass Lies". And Carolyn telling Steve about the library like this: “’But…’ he looked up at the cloud of lights overhead. ‘I mean…the universe is, like, big? Right?’ ‘Yes and no. Size is notional. It has to do with the structure of space. The door we came through was a gateway, but it’s also sort of a transition function. You wouldn’t be wrong to say that going through the transition makes you bigger.’ ‘I feel the same size.’ ‘Well… you wouldn’t really be right to say it either. It’s sort of mathy.’”

There are also genuine moments of pathos and empathy. It's a wild jumble of stuff that in the beginning seems incomprehensible, and then the author draws together all the frayed ends into something brilliant and strange. This is something I admire. But, like my friend said after watching Shaun of the Dead, "Really liked it. Not sure who I would recommend it to."

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Giving of the Thanks

It's hard not to be thankful when your sister (who poses for pictures so much more gracefully than her daughter)

Turns her kick-ass attic into a Hogwarts dormitory

for this motley crew;

and a visit to the shoe outlet results in this kind of entertainment; 

I mean, seriously?

Yep, seriously. (My sister is tall. My niece has really good balance).

AND it's warm enough for Eve to handily beat Angus at 21 (several times) in short sleeves;

and there's a schoolyard next door where she can practice being a badass (a touch more practice might be in order);

and when I say 'oh wait, we need a turkey-carving picture', my ever-gracious brother-in-law gives me this:

and, well, in the spirit of full disclosure....

and, of course,

So full. On so many levels. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Mondays on the Margins: The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

The other day I visited the Ottawa Public Library's website, as I do every few days, to see what I needed to renew and return. I had to look at my list a couple of times to confirm that, for the first time ever, I only had ebooks out. Nothing to return. Just a bunch of stuff that would go *poof* when its due date arrived and vanish into the ether.

I've had a succession of books come available that I'd been waiting for eagerly. Well, sort of eagerly. They were all books that sounded really cool and different and exciting when I read about them. As we all know, there are two ways this can go (that's total bullshit, there are a veritable multitude of ways this can go, but I'm bad at math and my husband is in Korea and there aren't enough iterations of me to effectively drive everywhere and cook everything and walk everything that needs to be driven and cooked and walked right now so I'm choosing to call it two, DO YOU WANT TO MAKE SOMETHING OF IT???); either the book lives up to its hype and you are transported and transformed for a few days and it stands in beautiful book memory as a memorable period, or it doesn't and you feel deceived, betrayed, cruelly mocked and desperate to throat-punch, nipple-twist and hair-pull the reviewer who set you off on this fool's errand. Or maybe that's just me.

One of the books that came up in this queue was The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber: "It begins with Peter, a devoted man of faith, as he is called to the mission of a lifetime, one that takes him galaxies away from his wife, Bea. Peter becomes immersed in the mysteries of an astonishing new environment, overseen by an enigmatic corporation known only as USIC. His work introduces him to a seemingly friendly native population struggling with a dangerous illness and hungry for Peter’s teachings—his Bible is their “book of strange new things.” But Peter is rattled when Bea’s letters from home become increasingly desperate: typhoons and earthquakes are devastating whole countries, and governments are crumbling. Bea’s faith, once the guiding light of their lives, begins to falter." 

Aliens! Galaxies! An enigmatic corporation (those almost always turn out to be evil). Dangerous illness! Typhoons, earthquakes, crumbling governments! Sounds earth-moving, does it not?

And... it's not that it was bad. It wasn't bad. It just was very.... earth-standing-still. What I said in my review was that it was very realistic, and some people like that. I'm forever coming out of movie theatres and hearing people complain that what we just saw "wasn't believable". Believability isn't really a relevant criterion in my book - it's fine if that's your thing, but if it's original and imaginative and funny or frightening or so sad you want to sit down and weep until you lose consciousness, put it up there, I WILL BELIEVE IT. This was almost too believable. It read like a documentary of these events if they'd actually taken place, which would be all I could reasonably expect if they HAD actually taken place, but since this was fiction, I would have appreciated more of a creative spark. What I got was this happened, and this happened, and this happened, and the aliens are weird and inscrutable, which is not that surprising really, being as they're aliens, and more stuff happened, much of it depressing and unpleasant, the end. 

Then there was Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill, not to be confused with The Book of Speculation which was in the list at the same time and has just come available, and I have no idea what THAT's about, but THIS was about a marriage, an affair, a woman who reminded me uncomfortably of myself ("Was she a good wife?" "Well, no.") a child, and a lot of ordinary stuff involved in all of those - "common catastrophes", "the consuming, capacious experience of maternal love", etc. It's written in a listy, aphorismy, stripped-of-all-extraneous material kind of style, and while reading I wondered if it was maybe easier to write a book this way, just concentrating on the pithy, sharp points of dialogue and exposition without the tedious connecting bits like describing what people look like or getting them from the kitchen to the living room. I don't know if it is easier, but in this case it worked brilliantly for me - I had to restrain myself from highlighting the entire thing. It was like she was admitting that things can get absolutely horribly bad in a marriage and a life, but if you keep your mind open to the strangeness and comedy and humanity of it all, it's - well, it's still horribly bad but you get a great book out of it. 

Which brings me to The Library at Mount Char. But now it's Tuesday, and I still can't find my keys, and my husband is still in Korea, and I haven't blogged for two weeks, and I almost got into the wrong car in a parking lot earlier, and I have to go cook something or order something or something. So hey, look, another book post where I don't actually review the book. That makes me charmingly quirky, right? I'll do it tomorrow. I promise. ("Was she a reliable blogger?" "Well, no.")