Monday, 17 January 2011

Readalong: The Woman in White - Part One(ish)

Part one of this readalong covers the first half of the book, which in my edition (the Penguin one; ISBN 9780141439617) took me to page 302, or the end of part VI of Marian's narrative in the second epoch.

Except...I haven't got that far yet, because I was drinking watching Inception three times in a fortnight distracted by something shiny lazy.  This is like being back at uni and sitting in seminars with a rudimentary knowledge of the text, blagging like hell and attempting to appear knowledgeable.  I am currently on page 133 in Gilmore's narrative in the first epoch.  Oops.  I'm posting because this is the last day for the first half of the readalong, but I plan to follow it up when I've actually got to the midpoint noted above.

And what makes this laziness even weirder* is that I am really enjoying the book.  It's up there with Dracula in terms of Victorian novels that I find easy to read and which have a rollicking good plot as opposed to, oh I don't know, an opening that goes on for three tiny font pages about how much mud and fog there is in London (really, Dickens, London was a bit dingy in the 19th Century?  Colour me stunned).  When I did bother to pick the book up, I found pages flying by, at least in Walter Hartright's narrative; Gilmore's is a bit more stilted and correct, but that's fitting for the character.  Much as I like novels that are assembled like this - different narratives, either from people recording things after the event or writing journals - it's a bit like the epistolary novels of the 18th Century, taken to another step.  It means that the story can be continually covered even when the 'main' character isn't present while it still being first person, but it also means that there aren't heroines fainting and yet remembering everything while they're unconscious (yes, Pamela, I am looking at you, with a sidelong glance at Fanny Hill).

This isn't to say that what I've read so far is perfect.  There have been more than a few occasions when I'm brought straight up against the fact that I'm reading a book written in the 19th century, with all the casual racism (look at the amusing Italian short bloke, ha bloody ha) and sexism this entails.  Just as I was thinking that Collins was pretty awesome from being anti-corsetry, we then get the introduction of Marion who is criticised for being a bit too mannish despite her fantastic figure.  April at Good Books and Good Wine has done a drinking game for the novel (which I am v tempted to try except my liver is still annoyed with me for the weekend's excesses**) and I am definitely agreeing with the second part of Take One Drink.  I don't care if it's being done is a self-deprecating way, please to stop suggesting women are useless.  Especially as I think most of the women in this are pretty awesome so far; there's a nice lack of "no, little lady, you'd better not do that, wait for a man", and Marion, at any rate, is currently included in all the Drama.

The thing that has been especially striking me are the similarities with Fingersmith.  I know this is intentional, as Sarah Waters based her novel on this one (and kind of on Collins in general), but it is a bit disconcerting at times.  I kept expecting Mr-Fairlie-the-Hypochondriac-Uncle to produce his collection of erotic books instead of his Rembrandt prints.  Even though I know this book isn't going to follow the exact plot of Fingersmith, it means that I'm constantly second guessing things and expecting plot twists and unlawful incarcerations in asylums and all sorts of other things which may not happen. (NB: I highly recommend Fingersmith; the prose alone is worth it, but when it's coupled to a plot that made me squawk in surprise at one point then it goes to a whole new level of fantastically amazing).

So far, all I can really do is make conjectures about what's going to happen.  I have spent a few pages yelling "oh my God, you idiots, this all clearly means X is happening" - my favourite of these being "who could the ghostly woman possibly be?"  Oh, I don't know, someone with a propensity for dressing in white?  Who could that possibly be?  The moments when the characters are standing around being puzzled are, at least, believable and not long winded like some Victorian literature, but being a couple of steps ahead of the characters can be annoying when you're clearly not meant to be.  Anyway, predictions:

- Laura and Anne are Secretly Sisters because Mr-Fairlie-Laura's-Father was a Scoundrel.  There are references to Anne not knowing who her father was/is, and she and Laura are meant to be practically identical - the point hasn't been laboured at all - so if this doesn't turn out to be a Super Secret Twist I may be a little annoyed.
- At some point Marion is going to go Hypochondriac Uncle with some Suspicions and she is going to be shot down.  I can see Hypochondriac Uncle being a problem.  If not, he'll die at a convenient point, possibly aided by Sir Percival.
- There's going to be an old switcheroo with Laura and Anne and the asylum.  I'm not even sure how this would work, I just think it's going to happen and there will be lots of misunderstanding and panic and derring do.

Notes, or Random Thoughts While Reading
- Why did they invite a Weeping Angel to the wedding?  At least in the dream, there's an "angel weeping" at the ceremony (80) which sent my mind straight to Doctor Who.  Steven Moffat has clearly destroyed my brain.
- "[h]e has fought successfully two contested elections; and has come out of the ordeal unscathed" (83) so at least one of our politicians hasn't been claiming for a second home, putting in a moat, or spending a small fortune on a duck house.

* Apart from the Inception watching, because ohmygod I love that film.
** Awesome as Inception is, watching it while downing three double gin and tonics may not be the best way to spend an evening <- responsible adult talking there.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Review: Ash by Malinda Lo

Published: 2009
Pages: 291
Series: N/A
Read: 4th January 2011
Challenge: A to Z Title Challenge
Status: Owned Book
Reason I Read It: It's a lesbian retelling of Cinderella, and it mixes the fairytale with fey.
Synopsis: With her parents both gone, Ash finds herself a servant in the house of her ruthless stepmother and there seems no hope of finding happiness again.  But Ash is unaware of her mother's legacy, and that it will lead her to a magical place.  A place where love, identity, and belonging are all waiting... (back copy)

First Line: "Aisling's mother died at midsummer."

Review: I first heard about this book here, and I have to admit my initial reaction was "a lesbian retelling of Cinderella?  Awesome, I must read it!".  The Cinderella expectations may have influenced me as I read it, because it doesn't play out as Cinderella - it isn't Princess Charming, for example (God awful as such a phrase sounds in my head) - but borrows elements and plays with them.  I've seen some reviews that dislike that it doesn't follow the pattern of the fairy tale exactly, and I admit that this was something I wasn't especially enamoured by, but this is a retelling: meddling with the format is part of it.  Once I got over that, I enjoyed it.

For prose alone, this book is phenomenal.  The language is so beautiful I was frequently wanting to shake my book in jealous writer fury.  The lyrical dreaminess exactly fits the story, as do all the interludes in which people tell tales (historical and fairy) to flesh out the world and to demonstrate the danger that Ash could fall into. The world feels fully realised, and I'm curious to know how many of the tales are entirely created by Lo, and how many variants of folk tales that we have*.  It all fits together to create an idea that there is a much richer history here, which only makes me very eager to get my hands on Huntress.

Saying all that, there were elements that didn't seem to mesh as well for me.  Again, it might be because of the Cinderella expectations, but there were times when the plot felt a little jarred.  Possibly my biggest issue (potential spoiler) is that there was no real comeuppance for the evil stepmother.  I wasn't expecting her to be made to dance in red hot boots, as in the original tale (thanks for that info, QI), but I would have liked a little vengeance.  I kept expecting it to turn out that she was lying about the debt Ash's father had left her in, and I wanted some sweeping legal retribution or something.  It fits that this doesn't happen - the book is about Ash finding her own identity and power - but I'm vindictive about things like this in fiction.  This is possibly just me, though.

The main love story plays out gently and subtly, though I would say that, even if I hadn't known it going in, I would have realised this was a lesbian story almost as soon as Kaisa appears.  It is perfect for a young, inexperienced 'first' love - I say 'first' like that because it's more about Ash's first experience with it rather than the first of many - with the uncertainty and the lack of realisation on Ash's part as to what she feels.  The ending didn't feel rushed, even if I flagged how it was going to play out before it did.

All in all, I enjoyed Ash but didn't love it.  Beautiful as it was, it didn't grab me in the same way as some books I adore.  Saying all that - which possibly sounds more critical than I intend it, damn lack of tone in the written word - I highly recommend it, and am definitely going to read Huntress.

Rating: 7/10

*Flashback to spending an hour translating a friend's medieval poem/saga/thing of a man going to Fairyland or some such.  There were a lot of descriptions of what the fashion hound fairies were wearing.
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