Saturday, January 18, 2014

First Impressions

Starting a bunch of new books.  Here's a rundown of my opinions based on the first 3-10% of each one (depending how long it is--I'm probably 40 pages into The Goldfinch and I just hit 3%.  Kindle tells me I won't be done for 17 hours, and every time I turn a page that estimate gets longer.  That cannot be a good thing).

The Cranes Dance, by Meg Howrey.  This one was a recommendation from Linden, and when the library had the ebook available I picked it up idly.  It starts with a ballerina's rundown of Swan Lake for the uninitiated and from the backstage point of view, and I was hooked.

Kate has an amazing voice. she is everything you believe hard-core ballet dancers to be--edgy, competitive, passionate, anxious--and you want more than anything to listen to her dish.  But it's not a fluffy book--it's about how ambition and intensity affect relationships and personality.

The Well of Ascension, by Brandon Sanderson.  Well, you know, meh.  The problem with a second book is always (or at least often) that you have to start fresh with a new plot.  So you start out with either no tension or unearned tension.  Plus, all the progress we made in the last book just seems to have fallen away.

There are other things that annoy me, though.  Kelsier as a charismatic character was not just holding the characters together, he was kind of holding me in the story last time.  Vin's being a jerk to the chandra.  And oh jeez, too much political meandering.  And not in a complicated Dune/Vorkosigan way, but in a boring The Phantom Menace kind of way.

That said, it's a LONG book and I'm just a little way in.  Eventually, he'll get me invested.  This reaction, though, is why I tend to avoid epics.

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt.  The first few pages set up a delightful tease--our narrator is holed up in a hotel room, clearly on the run, but in a banal kind of way (it's unlikely that anyone at this hotel will recognize him, but he doesn't have any underwear).  This had promise.  Then we flash back to what is explicitly the afternoon of his mother's death and spend a while with them at an art museum.

It's not that it's not good.  It's well written.  But I don't yet know why I'm reading it.  The thing about Donna Tartt is that she wrote The Secret History--a wild, chilling, almost surreal ride through an upper class that almost doesn't exist--and she also wrote The Little Friend--a dull-as-dishwater story that promises to be about an unsolved murder in a small town, but which is really a slice of life in the '70s in the South.  It might have been okay, but it was nowhere near as satisfying.  Southern Gothic a few decades ago is just much less interesting and fresh than New England Gothic hiding in plain sight at a college that is practically where I went.

So far, we see hints of a New York Gothic, and I'm kind of digging them--the family that lives in a doorman building and takes cabs everywhere, but has to scrounge for change in the couch cushions to tip the deliveryman from Gristedes.  There are hints of what made The Secret History great, of this odd world positioned right behind the one I'm in.  But I'm just not sure Tartt has enough trust left from me to make it work.

She'd better--that puppy is 800 pages long and I'm reading it for book club, so no quitting.

Finnikin of the Rock, by Melina Marchetta.  I'm not sure I can deliver even a first impression verdict on this one yet.  I've started but not finished several Marchetta books, and I find myself put off by the fact that she always seems to skip the exposition I want and start kind of in the middle of the story.  Not just in medias res, but with kind of an infodump that leaves you feeling stranded.

Finnikin, for example, is currently working with refugees from the destroyed kingdom of Lumatere.  But the story doesn't exactly start with him, and then give us back story.  It starts with a weird, confusing account of the end of Lumatere--full of a bunch of drama based around characters we don't know anything about and who are dead now anyway.  It's dense and confusing, and even the characters are unclear about some of it.  It's the predominant fact in the lives of all the characters, but I have no feel for it, no texture.

So Finnikin seems to be acting like a jerk when he's impatient to be kept from doing things that he's passionate about but I don't quite get.  They are traveling through all these places whose impressions I'm given, but don't quite get.

Sarah believes in this series--she read the last book several times in a row--and I'm going to read it.  But I'm not sure about it yet.


Aarti said...

I am reading The Secret History on audio and I think I feel about it the way you do about The Goldfinch. I am reading it because everyone loves it but, about 20% of the way in, I just have zero idea what the book is about. Except taking Greek classes?

Anonymous said...

Slog on! I will buy you the steakest of steak dinners if you genuinely don't like all three. If it helps, I am trying to get through Cloud Atlas on your recommendation. It is not going super well, but I too shall slog.


LibraryHungry said...

I can totally see not getting The Secret History. The thing about it is the Gothic tone and the question of what the heck is going to happen next. There is definitely a point where it kind of goes off the rails, and that's kind of what you're in it for, but if you're not into the build-up--well, I'm not a big fan of struggling through things.

Except, Sarah, that I will definitely push through Finnikin. It's already picking up--at least, I'm managing to put together all the context they've dumped on me.