Bookwise: May 2011

So books- I have recently finished Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson.

It is a really lovely and unexpected book. Major Ernest Pettigrew is content to lead a quiet life in the sleepy village of Edgecombe St Mary, away from the meddling of the locals and his overbearing son. But when his brother dies, he finds himself seeking companionship with the widowed village shopkeeper, Mrs Ali. Drawn together by a love of books they are soon forced to contend with relatives and gossiping villagers. The Major is the perfect gentleman, but the most unlikely hero, and what I loved most about the book other than the whole atmosphere was this feeling that the Major has and which you sometimes get when you feel like— so that’s it then, I guess. Life. I did all the stuff you are meant to do and I had some incredible things happen, but I suppose it will be all downhill from here, and nothing new is likely to happen and I am sure not going to get the chances back that I let slip by—then you find it is not like that at all. I really liked this gentle book. It made me feel good. It made me realize it ain’t over till it’s over!

 

 

I have also just finished Peter Matthieson’s classic, The Snow Leopard, which is an account of his two month journey with naturalist George Schaller in 1973 to Crystal Mountain, in the Dolpo region on the Tibetan Plateau in the Himalayas. He had been invited to accompany George Schaller on the zoologist’s trip to study the rare Himalayan blue sheep. Matthiessen was a student of Buddhism at the time, and such a trip would give him the chance to trek among remote and ancient Tibetan Buddhists, to see a region of Nepal that few Westerners had penetrated and possibly glimpse the most elusive of all great cats, the ice-eyed snow leopard. A year prior to the trip, the writer’s wife had died of cancer and “The Snow Leopard” is an excruciatingly beautiful and honest account of his spiritual and physical journey and although I am not a great reader of travel books or of books about spiritual journeys, I read this because I wanted to get a feel for the mountains. The book was really something special and even now, as I read my way through the galley proof of The Sending, I can’t help but wish I had another year to rewrite and extend the mountain part of the book… On the other hand, Elspeth’s spiritual journey is connected to her quest rather than to the mountains. Still…

 

 

I’m almost finished Perdido Street Station which is the second published novel by China Mieville and the second I am reading of his. It is the first of three independent works set in the fictional world of Bas-Lag, a world where both magic (referred to as ‘thaumaturgy’) and steampunk technology exist. The novel has won several literary awards. In an interview, Miéville, who is actually pretty cool looking as well as being a pretty interesting and thoughtful man, with notions and taste in books that align so closely to mine that I hope we meet someday. He described his book as “basically a secondary world fantasy with Victorian era technology. So rather than being a feudal world, it’s an early industrial capitalist world of a fairly grubby, police statey kind!”.

The novel was nominated for the 2002 Nebula Award for Best Novel and Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2000 and it won the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2001, the Premio Ignotus Award in 2002, and the Kurd Laßwitz Award in 2003. It also won the Amazon.com Editors’ Choice Award in Fantasy in 2001. And you can get it as an audiobook from Random House.

Michael Moorcock reviewed it, which is also pretty cool, and he said “Perdido Street Station, a massive and gorgeously detailed parallel-world fantasy, offers us a range of rather more exotic creatures, all of whom are wonderfully drawn and reveal a writer with a rare descriptive gift, an unusually observant eye for physical detail, for the sensuality and beauty of the ordinarily human as well as the thoroughly alien.” He goes on to say that ” Mieville’s catholic contemporary sensibility, delivers a generous Victorian value and a well-placed moral point or two, makes Perdido Street Station utterly absorbing!”

 

The other book I have read of his which was TOTALLY different but really original and brilliant, was “The City & the City”.

 

Where Perdido St Station is drunk on language, detail, color and character, this novel is gray, chilly and stripped down. Where Perdido Street it is a Tome of the size of my biggest books, this one’s a cool gem at 300. And where Perdido St teemed with khepri, garuda, and vodyanoias well as humans, “The City” is a lot closer to our own, though to the greylands of pre post totalitarianism countries.”The City,” is a detective novel. You might wonder Mieville could possibly bring to a genre that already has hundreds of variations, from Agatha Christie to the brilliant Raymond Chandler but he did not so much reimagine the classic detective character as create a surreal environment in which his sleuth must operate to solve the murder of a young woman dumped near a bleak housing project. I LOVED this.

 

Both books are very different and I am interested to see where Perdido Street takes me.

 

 

 

I have also started reading Robin Hobbs (and her alter ego Megan Lindholm’s) collect of tales The Inheritance. I bought it from Robin/Megan at Supanova in Melbourne, after we had sat for hours next to one another signing so industriously that we hardly got a chance to speak. I really feel sad that we did not have more time, but it just makes me determined to make sure I have time to talk to her, next time our paths cross. Her launch of The Wicked Eye was very special. But The Inheritance! It is a collection of short fiction by both Robin and Megan Lindholm. The short stories in the book are old and new, previously published and never before seen, and include a couple of Nebula finalists and a Hugo finalist. In her intro she explains how the two pen names came about, which is kind of interesting because the two names really do seem to fit two different kinds of writers. Megan is tighter and to my mind, much more of a sci fi writer. I really loved the first story in the collection about the musician Lavender. The stories from the Robin Hobbs persona are much bigger and more fantasy, and I am finding that what they make me want to do is to go back to her big books, especially the first ones- the whole wit thing is so beautifully done by her, and the truth is I could handle a whole book about Wit stories! Reading it has also made me think about writing another Obernewtyn story. I have been asked for a story for a collection and the asker mentioned that I might like to stay in that world for a little longer. You’d think I would want a break but in fact the idea really appeals to me. I might do a little poll and see who would like to know more about who just to see if any of the responses synchronizes with my own ideas… In the meantime, I have the pleasure of the rest of the stories from Robin and Megan waiting for me.

 

I am about to start The Thin Man from Dashiell Hammett to see if I like him as much as I do Raymond Chandler.