BooksOfTheMoon

Magic for Beginners

By Kelly Link

Rating: 2 stars

I’m afraid I really didn’t enjoy this book much, and what’s worse is that I feel bad for not enjoying it. The author is obviously very familiar with story and storytelling, and the stories in this collection reflect that familiarity and her playing with it and twisting it. Unfortunately, what we ended up with was something well out of my comfort zone and into the surreal. Now I don’t mind a certain level of surrealism (I’m very fond of Robert Sheckley, who didn’t object to going down strange narrative roads at times) but this was too much for me.

I got the book as part of a Humble Bundle and it took me literally years to get past the first story. Having managed that in the end, I struggled with the rest of it. Sometimes the story was just bizarre from the start, without much in the way of structure or plot (The Hortlak, The Cannon) but others start off interesting, or at least hinting that there’s a plot but spiral into strangeness (The Lull, Stone Animals). The one I found most disappointing, possibly because it was the one I enjoyed the most, right up until the last page, was Some Zombie Contingency Plans about a guy who’s not long out of prison and drives around, with a painting in the boot of his car, crashing parties. I was enjoying the slow pace and the actual structure of this. I just don’t like where it went in the end (assuming that I’m reading it right).

So a strong collection if you like works that know the limits of story and are happy to go beyond that, or works with a strong streak of surrealism running through them. Unfortunately, I like neither of those, so I’m afraid this is not for me.

Book details

Publisher: Small Beer Press
Year of publication: 2005

The Collector Collector

By Tibor Fischer

Rating: 3 stars

This is the story of Rosa, a woman looking for love. A story complicated by the conwoman who worms her way into Rosa’s life and immediately starts making it difficult. But most interestingly, this is a story narrated by a piece of ancient, sentient pottery, the collector collector of the title. Rosa is evaluating the pottery for its new owner and it witnesses the goings on in her life.

I say that’s the story, but it’s also a book that takes great pleasure in language, with lots of clever rhymes and turns of phrase, you get the impression that Fischer was enjoying himself immensely, as he was writing this.

The characters are very much caricatures, Rosa, the antiques evaluator who will go to extraordinary lengths to find love; Nikki, the woman who cons her way into staying with Rosa and who’s as obsessed with sex as she is with theft; Marius, the eccentric, and very rich, man who wants to collect the narrator. The bowl is, in a way, able to communicate with Rosa and feeds her anecdotes about its past, which breaks up the narrative every so often with an outrageous story from a former owner. These are fun and help pace the story.

If there was any sort of deeper meaning or subtext in the story then I didn’t pick up on it. It was an enjoyable read, but I don’t think it was a hugely memorable one.

Book details

ISBN: 9780099268192
Publisher: Vintage
Year of publication: 1997

Grimus

By Salman Rushdie

Rating: 2 stars

This was Rushdie’s first novel and it’s very much a journeyman work. He does use the magical realism vehicle that he uses much better effect in later novels (such as the excellent Midnight’s Children and The Satanic Verses). It’s difficult to identify themes that that he would come back to so it’s best to just look at this as it comes.

Flapping Eagle takes the elixir of immortal life, after his sister is first given it and spends the next several hundred years wandering the world, after her disappearance. Eventually he finds his way to Calf Island, which exists somewhere between dimensions and eventually to a confrontation with the eponymous Grimus.

The characters that Flapping Eagle encounters on his journey are mostly just caricatures, without much in the way of depth, although Flapping Eagle’s companion and guide Virgil Jones does get more development.

I think that Rushdie may have been going for somewhere between gothic and grand guignol in this novel, and to some degree he’s managed it, but at the expense of any warmth or engaging characters. Flapping Eagle is a difficult character to warm to, as his motivations and thoughts mostly go unreported, and his actions are often less than endearing. Rushdie’s writing here is workmanlike but he’s still developing a craft. It’s not yet the polished and poetic style that it would develop into.

So mostly worth reading if you’re a fan of Rushdie to see how his writing developed, but it doesn’t really stand up to his later work either in plot or in the writing.

Book details

Publisher: Vintage
Year of publication: 1975

Blackberry Wine

By Joanne Harris

Rating: 4 stars

Like Chocolat, this book hovers on the edge of fantasy for most of the way through, although I think this book actually hops over the border for cheap fuel and cigarettes. I really enjoyed this story of a writer (Jay Mackintosh) who wrote one really good book and spent the next 15 years of his life with writer’s block. Wine permeates the book, although not to the degree that chocolate did Chocolat. I also liked the conceit of the story being told by an old bottle of wine that Mackintosh had in his wine cellar. I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve read of Harris’ work and this continues that trend.

Book details

ISBN: 9780380815920
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Year of publication: 1999

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