Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “#meilufay”

meilufay’s (final) #CBR4 review #101 The City & The City by China Miéville

For me, the last third of 2012 was all about China Miéville.  After watching his polemic at the World Writers Conference in August, I rapidly read every article about and interview with him that I could get my hands on.  Then I moved on to his essays and lectures.  Finally, I decided I should probably read this guy’s books already.  I read Kraken first, and loved it.  Then I dug into Dial H, and ditto.  For The City & The City, I thought it would be interesting to do a little bit of genre reading as a companion so I read a selection of crime novels (Hammett, Chandler, Highsmith & more).  And then, because it felt appropriate, I read some Kafka and Philip K Dick.  I watched Brick, Miller’s Crossing, The Big Sleep and Blade Runner.  I’d been meaning to reread Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy so that went into the mix too.  This reading project has been a really entertaining, thought-provoking and intellectually stimulating ride.  I definitely feel as if I have a deeper appreciation for all the works I read than I would have if I’d just read them solo.

It just so happened that my reading this book coincided with The City & The City being Twitter book club #1book140’s December choice.  So I was able to further enrich my experience by participating in the discussions there.

Having written all that, I feel as if I should write a really amazing essay about this book but, honestly, I’m kind of tired.  I just wrote 20 reviews in two days.  So apologies to my readers, the tweeps at #1book140 and China Miéville if my review fails to adequately capture this book.  All failures in this review are my own.

One of the things I really like about China Miéville (other than the AWESOME acute accent in his name) is the fact that he’s incredibly rigorous about following through on his ideas.  Miéville describes The City & The City as a crime novel and its plot is definitely structured in the same way as the procedurals we all know so well.  But because Miéville is not satisfied until his work has some element of the fantastic or surreal, the murder his detective is investigating is overshadowed by a larger mystery – that of the relationship of the two cities of Beszel and Ul Qoma.  These two Eastern European cities are entangled with one another but it is unclear if this relationship is magical (like London Above and London Below in Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere), or if they are simply intricately and absurdly sharing the same geographical space.  In order to emphasize the separation between the two cities, citizens learn as children to “unsee” any elements from the other city.  Certain colors are limited to either Beszel or Ul Qoma.  In crosshatched areas, areas which are shared by both cities, traffic and pedestrian from the two cities mingle yet retain their separation by unseeing one another.  To violate these precepts is to risk the ire of Breach, a mysterious power that enforces barriers between the two cities.  Breach is spoken of as being “invoked” and it is unclear if Breach has supernatural powers.

Procedural murder mysteries are like the paradox of Schrödinger’s cat. In order to maintain the audience’s tension all possible solutions exist simultaneously until the “true” solution is finally revealed and all possibilities then collapse into one.  Miéville takes quantum physics theories and applies them to his novel in a astonishingly rigorous way.  There are the obvious ways: the two cities are entangled, and the aforementioned collapsing of possibilities.  But he also applies Schrödinger’s paradox to the genre of the book.  A supernatural and a natural solution to the mysteries of the murder and the entanglement of the two cities exist in tension to one another until the end of the book when Inspector Borlú, his hero, finally observes the truth, collapsing all possibilities.  It’s a high wire act and throughout the book I and my fellow book club readers were questioning whether or not Miéville would pull it off.  That he did absolutely astonishes and delights me.

Based on what I’ve heard about his other books, I don’t think that The City & The City is destined to make my list of favorite China Miéville books, but this book is so inventive, so well-structured, so extraordinarily carefully well-crafted, so smart, that I am rather dazzled by his achievement and talent.

meilufay’s #CBR4 review #100 An Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer

An Infamous Army was the novel Georgette Heyer was most proud of.  It tells the story of a romance set during Waterloo.  Heyer is famous for her attention to detail and her research but in this book she absolutely surpassed herself in learning every detail of the the circumstances leading up to Waterloo and of the battle itself.  At one point, the book was studied at Sandringham for its excellent descriptions of the battle.  Unfortunately, this book just did not work for me.  I applaud its ambition but I found it almost interminable.  For one thing, I didn’t care very much about the couple whose love story is supposed to move the plot along.  For another, the pages and pages of descriptions of Wellington’s interactions and thoughts, of battle-scenes, did not really marry very well to the love story that’s supposed to tie this story together.  I think if Heyer had simply written a novel of Wellington and the Battle of Waterloo, this book might have been more satisfying but the different elements of this novel were not woven together well.  I think this book is worth checking out for people who love this period and hunger for well-constructed descriptions of Waterloo, otherwise, I don’t really recommend it.

meilufay’s #CBR4 review #99 The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer

The Talisman Ring is another of Georgette Heyer’s swashbuckling 18th century romances, very much in the vein of the Scarlet Pimpernel.  It’s light and fun and entertaining and forgettable.  An enjoyable read.

meilufay’s #CBR4 review #98 Regency Buck by Georgette Heyer

Georgette Heyer is known as the absolute master of the Regency romance genre.  All other writers working the genre stand in her shadow.  But Regency Buck is the first of her Regency romances and it shows.  She’s not quite at home with the world yet.  She’s clearly done a lot of research and has read a lot of Jane Austen and all the details and mimicked dialogue sit uneasily on her romantic mystery plot.  While this is by no means a bad book, it is among my least favorite of her Regency romances.

meilufay’s #CBR4 review #97 Devil’s Cub by Georgette Heyer

As some of you may have noticed, I’ve been rereading Georgette Heyer’s historical romances chronologically.  Devil’s Cub is a sequel to These Old Shades (which is one of my all-time favorite of Heyer’s novels) and has as its hero Vidal, the son of Avon and Léonie from the earlier novel.  Because the book is set a generation after These Old Shades, it can be read on its own.  While this book isn’t my favorite of Heyer’s books, it’s easily in the top ten of her best books.  It’s laugh out loud funny, moves along at a smart pace and is peopled by vivid characters.  Great fun.

meilufay’s #CBR4 review #96 Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link

I know it’s too late to make a top three list for 2012 but if I were to do so this book would be on it (along with Redshirts by John Scalzi and Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay).  Magic for Beginners is a collection of short stories and novellas and it is… extraordinary.  I can honestly say I’ve never read anything like her before.  I can understand why pretty much every fantasy and science fiction writer I admire is slavish in their praise of Kelly Link’s writing.  She’s definitely working in the tradition of Charles De Lint and Neil Gaiman, using mythological and horror tropes to inform her fiction.  These stories read like forgotten folk tales as David Lynch might tell them – dark and funny and weird, really really weird.  Wonderfully weird.  Her writing is delightful, witty, exquisite and haunting.  These stories are heartbreaking and beautiful, filled with unforgettable images.  Seriously, just do yourself a favor and download this book.  It’s available for free on her website.  You’re welcome.

meilufay’s #CBR4 review #95 The Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer

If I were to write a top five list of my all-time favorite Georgette Heyer novels, this one would definitely qualify.  Set in the 18th century, this romantic comedy has one of Georgette Heyer’s most captivating heroines – the stammering, diminutive Horry.  The Convenient Marriage is one of the first Heyer novels to be enlivened a pack of dimwitted and silly young society men (think Wooster in PG Wodehouse’s books) whose antics add a dimension of hilarity to the storyline.  This bright, light, witty romantic comedy is an absolute delight to read.

meilufay’s #CBR4 review #94 The Masqueraders by Georgette Heyer

As a close and passionate reader of Georgette Heyer’s novels (some of them I’ve read easily a dozen times), I’ve noticed that she seems to be heavily influenced by William Shakespeare’s comedies.  The Masqueraders shows this influence more than any of her other books.  In it a con artist brother and sister, fleeing the disastrous Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, hide their identities by cross-dressing.  The brother dresses as a woman, the sister as a man.  They rescue a damsel in distress at an inn and are soon drawn into the expected romantic hijinks.  This is by no means the best of Georgette Heyer’s novels, but it is a light, entertaining, fun read.

meilufay’s #CBR4 review #93 These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer

This is absolutely one of my favorite Georgette Heyer novels.  It is almost a sequel to her first novel, The Black Moth.  Almost all the main characters are here but with different names and slight adjustments to their back stories (hence the title).  It’s a swashbuckling historical romance in the vein of Scarlet Pimpernel and Alexandre Dumas and is absolutely delightful to read.  Georgette Heyer is one of the most elegant and witty prose writers I’ve ever come across.  She’s like a cross between Jane Austen and PG Wodehouse but with an air of sophistication and an exquisiteness of taste that is all her own.  This book is an excellent example of why Heyer’s writing has been so admired by various more famous writers such as A.S. Byatt.  But this book is not just well-written – it’s blessed with one of her best plots and most memorable characters.  It’s a book that will make you laugh and cry and which you will close with a smile on your face.  If you are only going to read one Georgette Heyer novel, then I nominate this as one of the contenders for that slot.

meilufay’s #CBR4 review #92 Powder and Patch by Georgette Heyer

Although Georgette Heyer is most famous as THE Regency romance novelist, she did not write her first Regency romance until she was ten years into her career.  Up until that point she played around with several different types of historical novels and mysteries.  As a teenager, Baroness Orczy (of Scarlet Pimpernel fame) was one of her favorite novelists and so quite a few of Heyer’s earlier romantic comedies are set in the 18th century and are very much in that adventurous, swashbuckling mode.  Powder and Patch is a straight up romantic comedy (almost no swashbuckling, though there is a duel) set in the 18th century and it is probably my least favorite of her romantic comedies.  It’s only her second novel, and she still hadn’t found her voice as a writer.  Unless you’re a completionist and want to read all the Heyers, I’d say give this one a pass.

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