I finished Kari Sperring’s Living With Ghosts fairly quickly, which was an odd read, and couldn’t help myself order some more books, even though I’m wandering through The Water Margin (yes, still a weird, uneven and occasionally badly proofed translation), one of which is her new book, The Grass King’s Concubine.
She has an odd writing style, I think one that only makes sense or gives weight to the characters through accumulation and repetition, through their actions being described over and over until they become the character. It’s not the same as giving a character a back story, or an inner life which drives the narrative, though there is some of that also. And sometimes it reads as naïve, as if she as the writer is a foreigner narrating a story in a language she doesn’t speak so well.
Anyway, I keep reading it, it’s enjoyable yes, I want to know what happens next, I’ll buy whatever she writes next. I just wish fantasy book covers weren’t so embarrassingly awful; I had to turn it facedown in the shop.
Oh, yes, why I’m reading this. Because Kari Sperring was a guest blogger on Charles Stross’ blog, and I liked what she wrote there, she has a PhD in mediaeval British history, which she’s written about in her other life as an academic, she likes hong Kong cinema also.
Somehow I had got the idea this was vaguely in the realm of science-fiction. Well, the cover should be a dead giveaway; thankfully though no vampires. The cover though is … ah, why do I seem to have a regular supply of books where the cover embarrasses me?
Kari Sperring is yet another one of Charles Stross’ guest bloggers, and who like Joan Slonczewski I decided to read as a final to the concatenation of guest blogger on Charlie, very interesting posts, equally interesting biography, seeing what books she’d written, and then the inevitable ordering of one from St. George’s. Acquired on Saturday; have devoured a little under 3/4 since (half day yesterday spent cooking lamb and fig tajine is the excuse for not finishing it, I suppose).
When I first read China Miéville (Perdido St Station, in 2006, I think). I was annoyed by the more than infrequent use of the word, ‘gouts’. Things gouted with uncanny regularity towards players and sets disinclined to be the object of such goutings’ attentions from all manner of gouting-enabled objects and presences. It’s a good word, gout. It evokes the clotted pus eructation of an abscess, and it’s rare enough to bear the curlicue of uniqueness, if it doesn’t appear too often. Gout.
I wonder if this is a personal thing, where I pick up stray patterns or repetitions, either of specific words, or their use in combination, and that I often trace or stitch them together across the course of the book. It’s like seeing a route through a city once and then recognising it again years later when approached from a different direction; it’s not a conscious thing, and I experience it as observing the process or act of thinking or consciousness.
Which is to say, there’s quite a bit of this in Living with Ghosts. Mostly in the first third or so, where the ghost which stalks one of the protagonists ‘adjective gestured’ very frequently. Mainly because a) he couldn’t speak, and b) no one but said protagonist could see him. Still, his conversational range was limited mostly to ‘gestured obscenely’. Or at least in my memory something found this repetition.
Having needed very much a break from all the anthropology and history I’ve been working my way through recently, I’ve been rereading, as usual, a bit of science-fiction of the Miéville/Banks variety (even rereading Railsea, which yes is going to be book of the year), so Kari Sperring came along at the perfect moment. And it’s rather enjoyable, though I do have mmm… aesthetic/political issues with fantasy and its setting in basically western Europe medieval nobility and peasants. I also don’t — as one or two of Charlies’ guest bloggers have argued — agree that fantasy and science-fiction are essentially the same; a position arrived at in part by Clarke’s Third Law, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” I think they are fundamentally and substantially different — genres as well as aesthetics, and so on, even though it’s entirely possible for a writer to go between both, or for one to contain the other. Maybe for me it’s due to the science-fiction I do read being largely of the kind which in some context and to some degree postulates a world for living in; I mean addressing how a society might function in a way that addresses the shortcomings of the current world. In this, I could perhaps say that certain genres of science-fiction are works of philosophical (and political) fiction, which is something that fantasy set so often in nobility realms isn’t. (Given of course my sparse reading of fantasy, that is.)
Nonetheless, even though sometimes the individual words or phrases bother me, and the mise en scène also, in between this there is quite a story that obviously I’m enjoying because I keep falling asleep under it and have got through most of almost 500 pages in one and an half days. Probably will get reread at some time when I need distraction, and likely I’ll buy her newest sometime soon also. (Still irritated by the cover though, especially because I have no idea who he’s supposed to represent.)
Needing a short pause from the non-fiction I’d been reading lately, before I plunge into the one book I’ve taken to Brussels, and while waiting for the arrival of one of Joan Slonsczewski’s, I decided to spend a night reading the first Harry Potter.
Which turned into a week reading the first five.
I’ll have to wait till I’m back in Berlin to finish the last two, but it has been highly enjoyable.
There’s a definite turn after The Prisoner of Azkaban, which has long been my favourite, and by The Order of the Phoenix, there’s more being said than needs to be; I was sitting on a train from Zürich to Vevey in 2005, reading The Half-Blood Prince feeling decidedly tired with the proceedings, especially with Harry’s surly moods. Still, many of the books came out on or so near to my birthday, I decided I must share the date with the Boy Who Lived (turns out it’s not).
I’ve been paying more attention to Hermione this time, whose narrative journey over the seven books is the most fascinating, as well as often unexpected — she has a life outside of the pages that neither Harry nor Ron do. There’s an obvious feeling in her character than she is the embodiment of many hopes and aspirations not just of the author, but of what a girl can strive for while growing into a woman.
So, a bit of a distraction for some days, still two and an half to go. Would that there were more from the Potter universe to read.