Monday, August 23, 2010

The Golden Gate - Vikram Seth

Another re-read by Jo Walton over on A Suitable Boy is one of my favorite stories, I've read it at least a dozen times, and yet I resisted reading The Golden Gate simply because I thought it was a book of poetry. What I had failed to realize was that it is also a novel. In verse. Every single last bit of it.

It's a surprisingly good story, given how short it is, and that it is entirely in verse. I think having it be in verse let it be shorter than it would have been if it were in prose. There's more flavour to verse. There were a few bits of it that felt gratuitous to me...some things happened which I felt the story would have been better without. Then I re-read Jo's post and noticed this comment:

Then someone pointed out to me that the subject is love -- every possible kind of love. From romantic, to father/son, to friends-- all the way down to the love a guy had for his pet iguana!

Seth covered it all. All in sonnets.

Plus: the blurb was a sonnet. The author bio was a sonnet.

Which suddenly made everything much clearer. It let me understand why Seth had written the story he did...especially the parts that felt too rough. Possibly it is time for me to go re-read Hunchback of Notre Dame...I was so angry with Hugo when I finished that.

Who Fears Death - Nnedi Okorafor

Learned about this from John Scalzi's Big Idea's series. The bit that got me was this:
This is a vision of a part of “Africa” from the inside that could not simply be explained or documented in a textbook, biography, or traditional African novel.
And also the title. Which is the main character's name - Onyesonwu. And also the cover art is awesome. And the author's name starts with a double N! What I hadn't really appreciated before starting to read, is that this is either fantasy or science fiction. Or maybe alternative reality? I was expecting more of a fantastical reality approach rather than straight up magic, and this knocked me right off balance...and in more ways than that. The main character is wonderful, but she is hard to empathize with (for me at any rate) because she is so intense and so emotional - but this didn't detract from the story in any way - she is hard for everyone in the story to empathize with.

The structure of the story is the absolutely typical "main character predicted by prophecy must go on a quest to save the world", and yet it feels totally fresh. The setting helps - post-apocalyptic Africa rather than Medieval Europe. Heroine rather than Hero. The style of magic is like nothing I've seen before. But there's more to it than this, and I think it is mostly Onyesonwu's personality and interactions with the other characters that makes this book resonate.

It also happens to contain my absolute favorite style of love story which so many books seem to resist. So far I've only see it here, in C.J.Cherryh's Foreigner, and in the first Outlander novel - where two people fall in love and have a relationship that is strong, supportive, friendly, and free of gratuitous conflict. I'm a total sucker for this particular element...probably because it is something I have in my own life.

I'm adding Nnedi Okorafor to the list of authors whose books I'm stalking.