They flock together, didn’t you know?
Often books of a type do seem to pop up one after the other. Sometimes this is a nice thing–I had a month spell of finding Richard III in almost every book I picked up. Other times, it can lead to a run of bothersome books, or frustrated reading.
These books aren’t quite either of those things. Actually, it’s the fact that I’m pretty ambivalent about all three which lead me to group them.
For instance, Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl was recommended to me by my friend B. as a very Maureen-y book. And YES, and no. It was so satisfying to finally read an Austenesque book that, purely on the level of language, sounded like Austen*. So often I’ve tried to read a Regency book and liked the story okay but been entirely put off by the wrongness of the language. I’m quite aware that this is a personal issue, but I think my poetry-trained ear just can’t handle it.
On the other hand, Althea, the narrator and main character, is not really like Elizabeth Bennet or Anne Elliott (my favorite Austen girls). Rather, she’s like Emma, but with less power. Matchmaking and scheming for herself and her stepsisters, she regards love as a folly and a good income as the only qualification for a husband. And, to be very slightly spoilerish, she never seems to change. Though events might seem to prove me wrong, I couldn’t buy into them because there was so little build-up. It seemed that I was supposed to take this revolutionary change of heart on trust.
The other book I’ve heard Keeping the Castle compared to is I Capture the Castle, a definite personal favorite. I can see it on a superficial level, but KtC lacks the immediacy of Cassandra’s worries, her loves and sorrows.
* Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell also nails the language, but what Susanna Clarke is doing there is not really Austenesque.
If you’re a Twitter friend, you may remember when I started Lifelode, because I got all excited over the fact that it’s basically China Court by Rumer Godden in a magical world. And since China Court is one of my heart books and Jo Walton perfectly caught the weird loveliness of her present tense everything happening at once style, I expected to adore this one.
And I liked it a lot. Like I said, Walton really caught the style perfectly, and the sense of both the home-liness and the turn of wider events that China Court has. I love domestic books, and I loved Taveth almost instantly. And I liked the sense of family dynamic and the complicated way it unfolds in the world of the book.
Where I got hung up is actually something surprising for me: pacing. For the first three quarters of the book, we have this lovely slow paced story, with lots of attention to details of everyday life and if that’s your thing, ignore what I’m about to say and go read it, because while I was reading I was living in Applekirk. But then at the end larger events come into the picture and lots of Things, Spoilerish Things, happen all at once, and then the story ends.
We’ve gotten hints of what’s happened since then throughout the book, thanks to the structure, and there is a bit at the end that helps to wind everything up. But I’m not quite talking about that, more about the fact that there didn’t seem to be any space in the moment for me to react what was happening, to feel anything. (Versus the big finale of Among Others where I will get choked up if I see one paragraph out of context.)
Again, that’s a personal thing, and yet I think there is something there that’s a little less finished than the rest of the book. As I said, though, if lovely descriptions of everyday life in a world not our own makes you go, “Ooooo,” read this one.
And then I read Dust Girl, which is quite different in that it takes place in Kansas in the 1930s. And I love the world that Sarah Zettel created–the sense of the suffocating dust, the creepiness of the monsters. I like the characters too, and the way Zettel interweaves Callie’s different identities. So it’s fast-paced, Midwestern based, with great descriptions and good characters. Why don’t I love it?
I just don’t know. Sometimes that happens with books–I think I ought to love them, but there’s something so indefinable that I struggle with how to express it. I can’t even tell if it’s just a personal issue or there’s something very subtly wrong with the book. In this case, I think it has more to do with personal issues in that the book is a US-based fairy tale and somehow, for me, fairies are European, or at least not Midwestern. Cool glades and forests and stone. But I like the concept of what Zettel has done, and she executes it very well, which makes it all the more frustrating that I can’t just be all, “YOU GUYS THIS BOOK!”
But it may also be that the story tries to take on so much–racial identity and being Jewish in the 1930s, and rumrunning and divisions in the Unseelie Court, and music, and finding out that you’re not who you thought you were, and and and. It’s an ambitious scope and I’m not quite sure the book can carry the weight of them. Again, it’s one of those books where I’m really unsure why I reacted to it the way that I did. So if you’re intrigued, I’d say, check it out.
Have you read any of these books? Thoughts or reactions? And what do you do when you want to love a book and just can’t?
Book sources: bought Keeping the Castle; public library for the other two