Saturday, July 10, 2021

Review: Patrick Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind

© 2007


So I tried The Name of the Wind. I picked it up because it is said -- or I have heard it claimed -- as being "literary" fantasy, and I gave a copy in a store a test read and liked the language. (Though, I bought my copy online, a nice hardback for next to nothing.) Great first page, but that is usually an illusion, as it is here. And the book does bear the stain of that phenomenon of the first page seemingly having been given more attention, in terms of language, that any other twenty pages combined. But I will give Rothfuss a little credit in that his writing never becomes wholly pedestrian. Not that I would call it terribly artistic, but he can turn a phrase, and it is far better than the likes of Sanderson. (Well, on page 79 he whips out an "insatiable lust for knowledge," which is so trite a phrase it might on its own disqualify a book from being "literary.")

Unfortunately, the plot does often become pedestrian. I quit reading at page 225, when Kvothe reached Inma, after the rather poor chapters of the journey thereto and his momentary infatuation with Denna. Which I found pointless fluff used only to fill out the journey. But, then, it seemed that much of the last many pages were just filled out with fluff -- which is to say the whole of his time in Tarbean. Yes, granted, this is the nature of the book, a long biographical narrative, but that does not preclude the author from having a reason for including whatever parts of the biography -- that is, a reason beyond "this is what happened next." Indeed, that is greatly the difference between a poor biography and a good biography: the latter is building up a picture of something, usually (but not always) the person who is the subject of the biography. A poor biography merely proceeds from time period to place to time period to place simply because "that is what happened next." And that is how The Name of the Wind reads.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Review: Claude Simon's The Flanders Road

© 1960; trans. Richard Howard © 1961, 1985


The central incident of The Flanders Road is that of four horseman retreating from the rout of the first days of the German invasion of France in WWII: the captain of the unit, his lieutenant, his lackey, and a forth cavalryman, the last the central voice of the book. They are all that remains of their unit, who were decimated in the first moments of battle, as would be expected when horsemen are sent forward against Panzers. Indeed, that absurdity is brought forward again and again, as with this passage:

Apparently they use those tanks as. . . then he was too far away I had forgotten that such things are merely called a 'business' the way you say 'that business' when you mean 'fighting a duel' a delicate euphemism a more discreet more elegant formula well so much the better not all was lost since we were still among well-bred people say don't say, example don't say 'the squadron has been massacred in an ambush', but 'we had a bad business outside the village of [. . .] (101)

But the incident is not merely the four of them trotting down Flanders Road, both them and their horses completely exhausted, most likely already behind the German advance if not, because of the age of their orders of retreat, on their way right to German forces, yet trotting nonetheless, the captain and his lieutenant talking about what the other two cannot hear, the captain leading the way, just trotting, head on into the sights of a german sniper, who kills the commander.

But then that is by extension the central incident of the squadron, riding head on, lead by a captain with sabre drawn, into the sights of advancing German armor. And yet again, it is the central incident of the "well-bred" French who "had a bad business" along the whole of the Eastern front. And there are plenty of moments in The Flanders Road that makes that extension clear.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Review: Neil Gaiman's American Gods

I will be honest. I want so very much to like Neil Gaiman's books. I do. Perhaps that is because I so enjoy the movies: Stardust, Coraline. (O.K., the tv show American Gods mostly bores me.) But, so far it just has not come to be to any great degree. The first one I read was Neverwhere, which I enjoyed enough but did not think much of. It was rather for me just this string of events happening one after the other, with only minimal connection between them (outside of what holds them onto that string). And, to be honest, if I am going to spend time entertaining myself with that kind of thing I would rather watch a shoot-em-up movie because it only takes two hours. But, I guess it was enjoyable enough. It did not wow me, but I did finish it. (And I will not finish something I am not enjoying.)

Now, I was teaching at the time and my class kind of agreed with me: Neverwhere was enjoyable enough, but nothing special. What I really needed to read, though, they all agreed, was American Gods. Which I finally got to, a few months ago. Between those two I have looked between the covers of others of his books. I eavesdropped on a conversation that said good things about The Graveyard Book, but when I looked for myself — and I read more than a few pages — I was not wowed enough to buy it. (Indeed, if I remember correctly, the writing put me off. Maybe I misremember, though.) And, perhaps, if I found cheap copies in the used (budget, you know) I might pick that up yet, or Coraline, or Stardust. Like I said, I do want to like Neil Gaiman.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Three Short Reviews: Mistborn, The Fifth Season, Dune

I have wanted to get back into reading fantasy and science fiction, and have been making slight effort to for a while. But now a little more effort to looking at contemporary fantasy. To be honest, most of it I look at in the stores and pass on. But I do give one here and there a chance. And then there is the going back to read the classics.


Mistborn. Brandon Sanderson (2006)


I bought a trade copy of this through the mail for two bits because it seemed well known and Sanderson seems everywhere.

I made it to page 70 and stopped with no desire to go forward. It was about as genre fantasy as genre fantasy can get. Which means it was not literary as not literary can get. And I rather found the premise daft, its execution unoriginal, and the writing mediocre at best.