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My admiration for Joyce Carol Oates knows no bounds, and I am always stunned by quite how prolific she is, both in her own name and under the pseudonyms she uses for her suspense fiction. So I was very interested to try one of her Lauren Kelly books, and the Book God kindly presented me with Blood Mask.
I actually finished this a few days ago, but I wanted to think about it before posting, as I found it quite an unsettling novel. This is the story of Marta, who after some major family problems (father sent to jail for embezzlement, mother in rehab) is taken in by her Aunt Drewe, a gallery owner and patron of the arts. Drewe left her home town many years before and has reinvented herself in the art world, carrying on with her late husband’s interests and establishing an artists’ colony at Chateauguay Springs on the Hudson River. She sets about trying to reinvent her niece as well (Marta’s real name is Annemarie), with limited success.
Drewe has taken up with a Scottish artist who creates sculptures using the blood of the sitter, and this has provoked a reaction from certain groups who vandalise the exhibition. So when Drewe disappears from her home after a struggle, and Marta is found drugged and beaten in the woods, the search begins for the perpetrators.
This is a very dark story which I admired more than I enjoyed; the ending is very ambiguous, but that fits with the tone of the novel. I found Marta a frustrating character, though I came to sympathise with her as a young woman in the thrall of a much stronger personality. It is , as you would expect, extremely well written and I will certainly look out for more Lauren Kelly.
Now that I have broken my reading challenge duck, I’ve decided to plunge into another one, hosted by Trish here. I am a great admirer of both short stories and short novels, and think I will be able to manage the required six novellas between April and September 2008 without too much trouble.
So far I’ve identified the following:
1. Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman [27 May]
2. The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares
3. The Dreaming Place by Charles de Lint [9 May]
4. The Touchstone by Edith Wharton [29 September]
5. Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey [18 May]
6. A Celibate Season by Carol Shields and Blanche Howard replaced by Provincial Daughter by RM Dashwood [5 August]
7. Rape: A Love Story by Joyce Carol Oates [15 September]
But I reserve the right to change my mind!
I don’t normally participate in challenges but I really liked the sound of this one. I’m going to follow Quest the First, which requires me to read at least 5 books that fit somewhere within the Once Upon a Time II criteria, which covers fantasy, folklore, fairy tales and mythology.
The five I’m committing to are:
1. Forests of the Heart by Charles de Lint [6 April]
2. Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson [26 May]
3. Going Postal by Terry Pratchett [2 June]
4. Was by Geoff Ryman [19 April]
5. The Faery Reel edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling [6 June]
The deadline is 20th June 2008, and we’ll see how I do.
So after what seems like most of this year so far I have finally finished Matter by Iain M Banks, and what a triumph it is! The novel tells the interconnected story of Djan Seriy Anaplian (a Culture Special Circumstances Agent), her two brothers Ferbin and Oramen, and the events that take place after the murder of their father on the planet Sursamen. But of course, being Banks, it’s so much more than that – inter-galactic politics, lots of SF techspeak, spaceships with wonderful names (my favourite was It’s My Party And I’ll Sing if I Want To) and battles, though it never loses the personal element. I became very attached to all three of the main characters and desperate to know how things were going to turn out. I’m not sure I can give a terribly coherent description of the impact the book had on me, except to say that it started off really well, got better, got even better, got really, really good and ended brilliantly. Worth every minute of the time it took me to finish it.
If you enjoy really satisfying science fiction, this needs to be on your reading list.
I have to confess that I haven’t read many Pratchett novels (two I think, although I have a couple more kicking around) but I always enjoy hearing him talk about his work, and he made the last episode of the Worlds of Fantasy series very memorable. So it’s particularly sad to hear him talk about his struggle with Alzheimer’s; the story is discussed here, including a clip of his speech, and if you want to know more about the disease look to the Alzheimer’s Research Trust website.
Or Hollywood blockbusters for people who can’t be bothered, as it says on the cover. Sometimes you just need something silly, and things are sufficiently heavy going at work that I set aside my current reading (that means you, Mr Banks) and tried something much, much lighter. This is quite good fun once you get used to the American slang and humour, and it hits more targets than it misses – particularly with Jurassic Park and Independence Day. The latter starts with “Congratulations on your decision to make a sci-fi disaster movie!” and points out that if you name your film after a holiday it will be televised every year. Helps if you’ve seen the films involved, and I was intrigued to see that of the ten covered, the only ones I hadn’t seen were Braveheart and Titanic. And now I don’t have to!
The tactic worked by the way as another 100 pages of Matter were disposed of today on the journey from Nottingham to London, so I am getting there.
Henry VIII’s Last Victim by Jesse Childs – award-winning biography of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, executed in 1547;
The Professor’s Daughter by Joann Sfar & Emmanuel Guibert – graphic novel about love between the daughter of an Egyptologist and a mummy, Imhotep IV – beautifully drawn;
Just a quick mention of the new BBC 4 documentary series about fantasy fiction. The first episode has already aired and concentrated on fantasy in children’s books, starting with Harry Potter, jumping back to The Water Babies and Alice, then working it’s way forward again to finish with His Dark Materials. Illuminating contributions from Phillip Pullman and Alan Garner amongst others bodes well for episode 2 which looks at the epic imagination, with lots about Tolkien and Peake. Well worth tuning into if you are at all interested in fantasy writing. And a good excuse to post a picture of Gandalf!