Thursday, March 07, 2013

King Hereafter: A Joint Review

I'm very excited to be reviewing Dorothy Dunnett's King Hereafter with Aarti at BookLust.  I feel this way partly because I love Aarti's blog, and partly because the book was full of words and content and plot, and I was grateful for a little hand holding.  It's not the story of Shakespeare's Macbeth, but rather a take on the historical figure on whom Macbeth is based.  I understand this to be a matter of some speculation, but I know much less about the subject than Dorothy Dunnett (you do, too, I guarantee it), so I'm going to take her at her word.

This is a long book, so we're going through it party by part.  This is the first half of our conversation about Part I; you can find the second half at her site, here.  Part II coming soon!

I'm in blue and Aarti's in red.  So, without further ado...

I have so many things I want to talk about in this book!  There’s the world she’s building, the writing style, and the politics.  But I think the first thing I wanted to mention was just how much the fact of the book being tied to Macbeth influenced my expectations and experience.  I find that in books that are based on other stories I know, I’m always looking for the characters I know about, and looking for how the stories fit together.  So I kept trying to figure out who was Banquo.  

But of course, this isn’t based on the Shakespeare, but rather on the history that he was writing from.  And it’s a different story from that one in almost every way.  Did you find the Macbeth tie in distracting, or that it set up expectations?  Or do you think it added anything to your experience of the story so far?

At the risk of sounding very uncultured, I’d have to say I don’t think Shakespeare’s Macbeth has tied in much at all for me because I hardly remember it at all!  I read it in high school and then never again, and all I can say is that Groa is nothing like Lady Macbeth so far :-)  I do think that Groa’s son, though, might be seen as a slight nod to the witches of Macbeth as he seems to have the ability to predict the future.  But I like that he is so fond of Thorfinn and just states what he thinks are facts, and then those facts just happen to turn everyone else’s world upside down.

I’ve read Dunnett’s other historical fiction books - The Lymond Chronicles and The House of Niccolo and it’s interesting how these ideas of fate and destiny are present in all of them.  In a way, if you know the story of Macbeth, you know how this story will end, but what’s so interesting is that Thorfinn himself seems to know how the story will end, but he’s still going out there doing his best every day to make the most of it.  I love that.

I also just love Thorfinn and Groa.  I was worried that I wouldn’t like Groa because I don’t love most of the women Dunnett writes.  But Groa is great and I am so looking forward to seeing her grow.  And Thorfinn - he’s so inscrutable and hard to read.  So many times through this part of the book, I feel like he was having conversations with people on multiple levels, and I really only understood the most obvious one!  Did you get that feeling?

Through most of the first section I felt the absence of female characters.  There’s Godiva, who is absolutely amazing and I want to be her, but she’s really the only one till Groa comes in.  I love her, too, and I felt like I understood her better than any other character, by far.  She starts out sort of on the outside of everything Thorfinn is doing, which is hugely frustrating (because she’s so great and you want her to be in the middle of the action), but it’s frustrating for her, too.  I think that makes it even more satisfying when she does get to play an active role, and when she and Thorfinn finally become close.

As for Macbeth, the story is already so far from the Shakespeare that the parallels are more interesting than informative.  I mean, killing Duncan was just a selfish, dirty move in the play, but here, it’s the only thing that made sense.  A lot of my enjoyment of the story comes, I think, from getting a feel for the rules these people are playing by--how do you predict what all the other players are going to do, and what does loyalty look like?  The latter is a huge deal here, because there are friends and there are allies, and they’re related but not entirely overlapping.  Thorfinn’s relationship with Eachmarchach is a great example--they’re clearly true personal friends, but on both their sides there’s an element of cultivating the political allies they need.  (It reminds me of all my friends who say they hate networking; all social activity is a little bit networking!)

Let me ask you this, though; how much of the outline of background events did you actually follow?  I feel like I recognize about half the names that are used in a lot of the descriptions of things that are going on, and can pinpoint and remember the details about even fewer.  There’s always another uncle or step-cousin or half-brother, and so many are named Thor and Finn!  (A character named Finn appeared in the other book I’m reading and I had an instinctive reaction of trying to figure out whose cousin he was before I realized that he worked at Google and had probably never been a-viking.)  I’m fascinated that the story can be so engaging when the “lens” is set so wide, and so much of it is taken up with broad descriptions of political maneuvers and war craft.

Head on over to Aarti's site for the second half of the review.  And stay tuned for more of Thorfinn, Groa, and all the other guys named Thor!

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