30 September, 2010

"Early" Review


Once again i am clearly not a member of the target audience of a book i received from the Early Reviewer programme of Librarything ~ which makes it interesting that i have a couple of times been given books aimed at juveniles (what i think the trade calls Young Adults); i suppose that it must be linked to the large number of books of that kind which we, as book loving parents of several children who have been or are young adults, own. At least one previous book of this genre (Sugarcoated) i seem to recall having quite enjoyed, at least, without going back and rereading my review; i wish that i could say the same of this one, but i have to be honest, and say i really struggled reading Shadowland.

There are just about two hundred pages here, and i was clearly halfway through (literally, in the actual meaning of that much misused word, page 100) before i fully grasped what was happening, let alone beginning to care about the characters. Of course, it must be admitted that a good portion of the problem i was having was related to the second way in which i am not a member of Lassiter’s target audience: This is the third book in a (projected) quintology, and i have not read either of the first two, thus i had no idea, going in, what was happening, who was involved, whom i should be cheering for. That disconnect is particularly strong in this book, perhaps in the series, much more than many series (Lord of the Rings and the Narnia Chronicles spring to mind immediately) where each book is sufficiently self-contained to stand alone.

Lassiter makes it clear, as i understand it, that the books are not really intended to be read apart from each other; in an Author Note [sic] at the end of the book she says, “These are not the kind of events that can be neatly wrapped up at the end of a book” (an overly broad statement, in some ways, as almost any conceivable book has some loose ends), making it clear that she understands the way her characters and plots are flowing from volume to volume of the series. It isn’t clear, however, that she understands how very difficult her particular method makes it for the casual reader to find his way into the individual volumes; i hadn’t, as mentioned above, any notion of the books, and it was horribly difficult to learn. A further difficulty, i found, was that there were several (even now i’m not certain) different groups of characters, linked in some way, though not clear in the narrative, with separate (but linked) plots, and Lassiter jumps between them very frequently, perhaps too frequently, before the reader has time to grasp and start to follow the current group.

All this ought not be taken to mean that i am ungrateful for the book ~ i haven’t yet been ungrateful for an Early Reviewer book (even Rooms, which was so appalling i couldn’t finish it!) ~ simply that i believe Lassiter was not well served by her publishers; though the final two volumes of the quintology appear not to have been written yet (or, at least, are unpublished), she might have been better advised to hold them all back until the whole was finished, to be published as one book. Certainly, if the others are of a size with this, at a thousand pages (of quite large print, going by this one) it would not be beyond possibility. The advantage of keeping her readers would probably outweigh (at least for an author) the financial benefits of publishing five books over one.

20 September, 2010

Old Poetry can be Fun

A Preface to Eighteenth Century Poetry

James Sutherland

One of the most enjoyable books i’ve read in a long time, which is not what one would expect at all from the title. I think we got this book in Hay-on-Wye several years ago; as i recall it was one i bought simply because it was an Oxford University Press book, it had a bit of water damage, and i was sad seeing it outside, left to deteriorate further. Perhaps also the fact that i had to study Pope for A level English may have played into it, though certainly not any enjoyment of him, because i found his poetry very difficult to enjoy ~ indeed, i remember complaining about it to DCLS after we’d written the relevant exam, as presumably i figured it couldn’t matter any more what a teacher thought about what i thought! Reading Sutherland now, though, was a real pleasure, makes me want to get hold of some Pope, Dryden, Johnson, and others.

The primary message Sutherland is offering is one i certainly don’t remember from Loretto, though possibly it was and i failed to pick it up; he says that the poetry of each age is different, and current expectations are not necessarily met by a previous age’s literature. In particular, the Eighteenth Century was very different, and today we will struggle to read its writings if we do not take into account the differences in their expectations and demands, especially as our reading of literature is still affected by the Romantic movement, which is heavily to be understood as reaction to the Eighteenth Century: A double whammy. So, then, what are these differences, these demands? Boils down to an expectation of formalism, of appropriate style and content, of taking poetry seriously both in the writing and the reading which we seem to no longer have in the Twentyfirst Century. The writers of the Augustan Age generally wrote for classically educated men who could recognise and appreciate allusions and style and serious thoughts. This makes it all sound rather unappealing, yet as i mentioned above, Sutherland has made me want to read some again; he is clearly a skilful and challenging writer who loves his subject and is able to carry that love over to his readers. Enjoyable.