Posts Tagged ‘patrick ness’
My review of Monsters Of Men by Patrick Ness is up now at Strange Horizons.
For me, The Knife Of Never Letting Go, the first volume of Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking trilogy, was pure infatuation. It was a novel I knew little about, which I had requested to review on a whim, and within pages I was smitten. The Ask And The Answer was a different proposition. There were now expectations. As a result I was able to look at the novel more closely, more critically than its predecessor, but still with a generosity of spirit. And this was repaid by a bold novel which took the original adventure in a much more radical and hard-nosed direction. At the same time, despite Ness’s success in re-inventing his story, flaws did start to appear: an elevation of moral and political symbolism above what we might find believable; the dilution of the narrative voice; rather too much irksomely histrionic teenage angst; and a simplicity to its prose which sometimes veers into dumbing down.
Now the series concludes with Monsters of Men and those flaws haven’t gone away. They are minor, but from time to time their repetition does provoke a disproportionate reaction, as though Ness has forgotten to put the towel on the radiator after he’s used it just once too often. There is one particularly manufactured moral dilemma late on in the book that actually made me scream. More often, though, I am willing to overlook imperfections because of the obvious qualities the book is endowed with. Some I doubt I even see. I really think I am in love.
As that quote suggests, it is less analytical and more emotional than most of my reviews but I think that is what the novel required. As far as I am concerned, Chaos Walking is one of the most important works of both science fiction and children’s literature of the last decade.
As well as becoming one of my favourite novelists, Patrick Ness is rapidly becoming one of my favourite reviewers. It helps that the Guardian usually send him exactly the sort of book I’m interested in. This month it is Chronic City by Jonathen Lethem:
Let me say here that I have no idea whether Lethem lights up himself, but without even considering the possibility, I’d already thought the sparkiness of earlier work such as Gun, With Occasional Music and Motherless Brooklyn had gone strangely awol in Lethem’s last two novels, the wide-ranging but frequently dull The Fortress of Solitude and the misfiring romantic comedy You Don’t Love Me Yet. Chronic City is better than both of those, but it’s still sometimes a struggle to see through the sheer haze of pot smoke.
I was surprised that I liked You Don’t Love Me Yet as much as I did but, like Ness, I have found his recent work less satisfying then his earlier work and I was not looking forward to Chronic City with any sense of anticipation. Frankly, it sounds like a mess and the bits that sound good have already been published:
Take Janice’s letters to Chase. Popping up every hundred pages or so, they’re just brilliant… The letters, in fact, are so compelling, they were a standalone short story in the New Yorker last year called “Lostronaut”. And “Lostronaut”, I think, is the Chronic City that might have been; everything Jonathan Lethem is capable of: compellingly odd beauty, a fresh turn of phrase (those “dry little feet”) and a concise, downbeat narrative arc, all delivering insight and emotional impact.
Elsewhere in the paper, Nicholas Lezard makes The Rapture by Liz Jensen his paperback choice:
Thrillers, alas, do not need to be well-written to succeed. (You could tell The Da Vinci Code was garbage from its very first word. But it was still a success.) So when an entertainment is, at the level of the sentence, up to the mark of respectable literary fiction then the entertainment is all the better – and all the more convincing: good prose is, or can feel like, a guarantor of truth, which makes The Rapture a peculiarly unnerving book, and all the more timely for coming in the wake of the failed negotiations of Copenhagen.
My review will be published by Strange Horizons the week after next and yes, it is pretty good. (I did raise an eyebrow at this line from Lezard’s review: “after all, we have been reading about screwed-up weather at least since Martin Amis wrote London Fields“.)
My review of The Ask And The Answer by Patrick Ness is up now at Strange Horizons.
As you probably know by now, I am a huge fan of The Knife Of Never Letting Go and I’ve even managed to persuade a couple of people to go out and buy it. So it was a pleasure to find that The Ask And The Answer lived up to the promise of the first volume:
I said Ness had been radical and he has. The Knife Of Never Letting Go is essentially an adventure story; a superior and serious minded example but an adventure nonetheless. The Ask And The Answer may be slower and less exhilarating to begin with than its predecessor but that is because it requires a fundamental change of mindset from the reader. This is no adventure: it is a war story in which our erstwhile hero and heroine gradually become a concentration camp guard and a suicide bomber.
However, it is not without is flaws and in this I find myself pretty much in agreement with Dan.
The other settlers are almost a ghost story to us. We’ve had no communications from them either in my lifetime or my parents’, so we always figured they didn’t make it. It’s a long, long trip from Old World to New, decades and decades, and so they were still on their way when our convoy left. But we heard nothing from them. Even our deepest space probes only caught distant glimpses of them as they travelled. Then after the time came when they would have landed, still years before I was born, it was hoped that we could communicate with them on the planet as we got closer, let them know we were coming, asking what it was like, what we should prepare ourselves for. But either no one was listening, or no one was there anymore.
The story is told in the first person from Viola’s perspective and in this it anticipates The Ask And The Answer, the second book in Ness’s Chaos Walking trilogy, in which the narrative is split between her and Todd. It also anticipates its blend of mixture of fear, violence and hope. My review of The Ask And The Answer will be published at Strange Horizons in the next couple of months but suffice to say you should go out and buy it now.
When Strange Horizons want someone to review a mainstream SF novel they call on me (or Dan). The Guardian have more money and cachet so when they want someone they call on Ursula K LeGuin. She reviewed Journey Into Space by Toby Litt yesterday:
The theme of the ship of fools is old and tried, and has provided matter for many a good story; but this is a ship of blockheads. Perhaps it’s a good thing to remind us of the dangerous stupidity of our species, but if there’s no end and no contrast to the stupidity, the story itself sinks into the inane.
My own review will be appearing in Strange Horizons some time in the near future and Joanna Briscoe reviews They Is Us by Tama Janowitz, another example of mainstream SF, just over the page:
The profundity and subtlety of recent futuristic dystopian literature creates a standard that is hard to match. After Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, any prophetic vision runs the risk of appearing derivative. Tama Janowitz rises to the challenge by injecting her bleak portrait of a future America with flippant humour, her message elevated by absurdity as she wilfully veers into the parodic. The result is funny but flimsy.
Continuing with reviews, Partick Ness on Gullstruck Island which sounds interesting. However, I was more interested in Ness’s lead paragraph:
It’s JK Rowling’s fault. After the mammoth Order of the Phoenix, so primed were readers for a concluding epic that The Deathly Hallows’s 607 pages seemed, incredibly, a bit mean. Have you noticed, though, that it’s only middle-aged reviewers who complain about the length of children’s books, not the children themselves? Frances Hardinge’s delightfully inventive Gullstruck Island cooks along for 504 ripe, rollicking and endlessly creative pages. If that sounds exhausting to you, maybe that’s the point. Maybe that’s why it’s a kids’ book.
I am some way off being middle-aged but I am a reviewer and I am given to moaning about the length of books. It is also a complaint Adam Roberts (who must be getting on towards middle age) recently made of Ness’s own kids’ book.
Elsewhere in the paper, Salman Rushie asks is there such a thing as a good adaptation? To which the only answer can be: yes, of course, there is, Jesus Christ, what is the point of paying subeditors if this is the best they can come up with? Glossing over the unfairly short shrift Rushdie gives both The Sword In The Stone and Spider I will instead highlight this portion of the article:
British reality programmes are adapted to suit American audiences as well; Pop Idol becomes American Idol when it crosses the Atlantic, Strictly Come Dancing becomes Dancing With the Stars – a programme which, it may interest you to know, invited me to appear on it last season, an invitation I declined.
This idea entranced me long enough for me to burn my breakfast.
Another day, another manufactured outrage from the Daily Mail. I having been banging on to the whole of the interwebs for months about the brilliance of Patrick Ness’s The Knife Of Never Letting Go but apparently it is so violent it needs a health warning. Or, at least, that is the impression the Mail gives through smoke and mirrors use of quotation. Luckily Ness has a platform to respond over at the Guardian.
In his response he notes the rather unique way the Mail chose to illustrate Amanda Craig’s article on perceived violence in children’s books. Craig also mentions in passing the allure of making things verboten which the Mail goes on to prove:
The content of children’s books has also caused controversy in Australia, where Requiem For A Beast won the 2008 Children’s Book Council prize for the best picture book. It featured the word ‘f***’ numerous times, as well as illustrations of a bloody axe and violent images of a man turning into a beast.
Sounds quite interesting. Anyway, it seems appropriate to close with Carol Ann Duffy’s poem, ‘Mrs Schofield’s GCSE’:
You must prepare your bosom for his knife,
said Portia to Antonio in which
of Shakespeare’s Comedies? Who killed his wife,
insane with jealousy? And which Scots witch
knew Something wicked this way comes? Who said
Is this a dagger which I see? Which Tragedy?
Whose blade was drawn which led to Tybalt’s death?
To whom did dying Caesar say Et tu? And why?
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark – do you
know what this means? Explain how poetry
pursues the human like the smitten moon
above the weeping, laughing earth; how we
make prayers of it. Nothing will come of nothing:
speak again. Said by which King? You may begin.
The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say.
“Need a poo, Todd.”
“Shut up, Manchee.”
“Poo. Poo, Todd.”
“I said shut up.”
That is the opening paragraph of The Knife Of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, which won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize a couple of weeks ago. It richly deserved the prize. As fellow nominee Frank Cottrell Boyce put it in his review:
This book is on the longlist for the 2008 Guardian children’s fiction prize, along with my own. If I had any sense, I would try to improve my chances of winning by slagging it off. The trouble is, you’d only have to read the first sentence to see how fantastic it promises to be.
My review of the book has just gone up at Strange Horizons. You will notice that the letters YA do not appear in the review at any point. This is because there is no such thing and when it gets down to it most people seem to agree so we should just end this consensual hallucination that it exists. Please join my crusade.
Getting onto another bugbear, The Knife Of Never Letting Go is the first book in the Chaos Walking trilogy. As I mention in my review the fact that standalone novels are becoming increasingly rare in genre publishing is a source of some irritation to me. There is currently no information available about the next volume but hopefully it will turn up soon. I reviewed Thorn Ogres Of Hagwood by Robin Jarvis in 2003. I have had an Amazon order for The Dark Waters of Hagwood, the second volume of the trilogy, since 2004 but there is still no sign of it.