Sunday, 23 March 2014

The Rook

This is an exceedingly clever book. In an nutshell, this book is like Neil Gaiman and Jasper Fforde had a beautiful, beautiful Aussie love child.

Daniel O'Malley is a Canberran author. I somehow, and am still not sure how, managed to score a copy off his Mum (who I actually don't know). But now that disclosure is out of the way, in case I wasn't clear before, this is an absolutely fantastic book.

The Rook is an urban fantasy set in London. We start the book meeting Myfanwy (pronounced Miffany by the way, not Mif-fan-way) Thomas, the protagonist, in a park, in the rain, surrounded by a whole heap of dead guys, wearing gloves. Oh, and she can't remember who she is. In terms of beginnings, not a bad one. We go on to find that Myfanwy knew this was going to happen and has left new Myfanwy lots of info in the form of letters and folders to help her along, and make a choice about her new, inherited life.

This sounds like it could be a terrible way of disclosing information to the reader. But it's not. It's bloody well executed. We find out the lore and background to this urban fantasy and the characters as we need it, in an unjarring way. It bombards you with the info you need in an accessible and believable way. *THIS* is something incredibly hard to do, and honestly a lot of fantasy and sci fi fails at. The amount of times I have tuned out the 3 chapters of mind numbingly boring history of a world in fantasy or sci fi.

That's one element of the cleverness. Another is the world. It is well thought out, plausible, and just fun. I mean, supernatural powers, secret service, tied up in history. What's not to love? But on top of this, the world building is fantastic, and actually rather unique. And that is possibly the highest compliment that one could give an urban fantasy these days.

The most important for me, is this book is fricking hilarious. It is rare that a book in this genre is able to poke so much fun at itself, and everything around it. The humour is just leaking out of it. Whether it is his Australian command of a metaphor or a simile (there is a metaphor or a simile for everything if you try), or his poking fun of Americans (love you all, but some of his lines made me snort beverages out my nose) or any other nationality, or just sarcastic observations in general, the guy is funny.

And it all just made the book a pleasure to read. Action, intrigue and funny. This is my point about the Neil Gaiman and Jasper Fforde Aussie love child. He takes the elements that I love of both authors; world building, story, action, intrigue, and wit. And puts an Aussie spin on it that you would only notice if you are paying attention.

So I know I may be a bit behind the times, but read the book. I applaud and take my hat off to him. I know he is writing a sequel at the moment, and I hope it lives up to the first book. I'll just be watching jealously in the meantime as you all read this one for the first time.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

The Name of the Rose - #50

Image sourced from here
What complete and utter self-indulgent wankery.

That is my opinion in one sentence. Feel free to stop reading now, as that is pretty much the long and the short of it. Eco seems so desperate to prove to everyone how incredibly clever he is, even though he is a leading academic in his field of semiotics as far as I can tell. So with this incredible insecurity shining through, he takes a wonderful premise for a story, but is incapable of keeping his hand off it for two pages at a time, so we get 500pp of "look at me! look at me!!!!".

I am really, REALLY annoyed. I saved this book for close to the end of my Around the World trip, as it was supposed to be wonderful. I kept reading even though I didn't enjoy it at all, as people were all "I didn't like it except for the end WHICH WAS AMAZING!" It's not. I promise it is not at all. I picked who the mastermind was 100 pages from the end as I was so bored and skipping half the pages of blatant symbolism that us-normal-peons-are-too-stupid-to-understand-but-look-how-wonderfully-smart-Eco-is, and thought I would have some fun picking the most preposterous person. Hmmmm.

Also, if you can't speak Latin, you're kinda stuffed. Because even though the book is translated from Italian to English, they decided not to translate the Latin. Because everyone speaks Latin these days. Uh huh. I thought this would be okay. I thought it would be fun and I might learn something, so I translated the first couple of phrases on post it notes, in case I needed to translate a couple of things later. This got old after about 30 pages. Especially as the monks talk more, as apparently, half their speech has to be in Latin. I know they did speak Latin, but translate it in a translation ffs. As you keep reading you can't help feeling that everyone knows more than you. Later we throw German into the mix too, because, you know, we can.

This would be a forgivable, although annoying, problem except intersperse the Latin with:

  • Complicated, unnecessary most of the time, obscure Catholic politics of the 12th, 13th and 14th Centuries. Long, long, long sections that discuss which weird cults (which are only cults when people declare them cults, and that can change Pope to Pope) hate who and did what; 
  • Weird Catholic/medieval symbolism of Bible stories (thank god I've read that cover to cover a few times) and then odd, mutated, mythological creatures on steroids that are described in EXCRUCIATING detail and never mentioned again;
  • Constant ranting about how women are disgusting, evil, not good for anything, and we can't work out why God created them. I get that was normal Catholic dogma in the 14th Century. However, we are talking about how if a woman is attractive and you notice her and are attracted to her, she is obviously a witch as why would you look at her otherwise and it's all her pact with the Devil. It was all too close to my own experiences and the teaching I was subjected to within the church around 2000. That just makes me feel ill, that in 6-7 centuries, in some groups/sections of Christianity, that hadn't changed that much; and
  • Ridiculously long and complicated (half in Latin) philosophical debates about life, the universe, everything, logic and rhetoric. When they started debating the philosophical merits of unicorns (which they believe existed) for several pages, there were audible screams.
I can't for the life of me work out why 38% of ratings are 5 stars. And another 36% are 4 stars. The only possible explanation I can come up with is that reading this book lures you into a form of Stockholm Syndrome. Or it's the psychological phenomena they have observed, that occurs when you do something for tenuous reasons and little reward, you convince yourself you liked it, enjoyed it and chose to do it, so your brain can cope with why you did it in the first place. Eg. you eat a bug for a monetary reward. But after you do, you only get given 20 cents as your reward. There is a disconnect between the reward and your action, it's not equal compensation. You then convince yourself so strongly that you did it because you wanted to, not because of the money. It stops a psychological meltdown. It seems like a plausible explanation for this book's ratings.

I just felt the entire time Eco was having a pissing competition with someone, and I didn't know who. Other academics? Look how good I am, I can write academic papers and best selling novels? Or just the world? All I know is that I got dragged into one insecure man's willy jostling and I feel incredibly deceived and a little dirty about the whole thing.