A Slip of the Keyboard by Sir Terry Pratchett is a collection of non-fiction essays due out on the 24th October.
A Slip of the Keyboard by Sir Terry Pratchett is a collection of non-fiction essays due out on the 24th October.
Another new podcast is live! As Simon is spending some time with his gran I was joined by Jared Shurin publisher, blogger, and campaigner for progressive, intelligent and entertaining works that contain elements of the speculative or fantastic for my first show without Simon. I had great fun and I think it’s inspired me to take the leap to do my own show, finally. More news of that soon.
If you fancy a listen:
The cover promises ‘a wicked, delicious, sexy Snow White fairytale’ so the question is does it deliver?
But before we answer that let’s look at the problem of modern-day fairy tales. In Cinderella, when the wicked step sisters cut off parts of their feet to fit in the glass shoe what was really shocking was the two singing pigeons:
Rook di goo, rook di goo!
There’s blood in the shoe.
The shoe is too tight,
This bride is not right!
What do you mean you don’t remember that in the Disney version? Oh that’s right; they didn’t use it. They sanitised the original and made it more ‘child-friendly’ (whatever that means) though I think a child would like that little bit of gore.
There are lots of issues with the portrayal of both sexes in modern fairy tales. Things that you might not at first see to be issues. If you’ve read the works of Angela Carter especially The Bloody Chamber you’ll know what I mean. Her short stories give you a completely different view about how women are expected to behave and how powerful or powerless they can be.
In Poison Pinborough is in a middle ground between Disney’s interpretation and Carter’s feminism though much closer to the latter than the former. She takes the girl who was saved by dwarfs and turns her into a women and in the process strips away the veneer to show us a warts and all portrayal that is much more akin to reality.
Of course, it is still a fairytale. We have wicked step-mothers, charming princes, poisoned apples but we also have depth and characters that show a range of both emotion and reaction. Something that the stripped down fairy tales can’t do as they are usually delivering simple moral messages (or if you’re Disney ideals that can never, and probably should never, be reached).
Some might complain about the sex (and they already have) as it’s not something that should be used in fairy tales as fairy tales are for children. Oh come on, really? How many adults do you know that secretly love sitting down watching Cinderella or Aladdin or Hercules? (The last two are my faves btw). And what’s wrong with extending that enjoyment into something that addresses adult themes? And then allows the heroines to be women and that allows wicked step-mum to have a range of emotions rather than being token evil. As well as asking who falls in love with an almost dead girl in a glass box?
A few points to note Poison is the first published book in a trio of interlinked but it is also cyclical, which is new technique on me, and it’ll be interesting how these events loop back on themselves. The reason I’m saying that as a standalone it doesn’t make sense. The ending is like an opening to another chapter rather than a resolution. Though the focus will change, next we have Charm and then Beauty, the exploration I hope will be as strong. And I hope to find out how the prince managed to be walking in the woods a bit worse for wear.
What I loved about Poison is it’s liberation. Snow White is what I’d like to see a princess aspiring too – maybe not everything – though pretty much. She holds her own. She resists the ideals of her step-mother as well-intentioned as they are. And the step-mother is well-intentioned, if deluded. You can see where she get’s it from as her own great-grandmother shows up.
Now at this point it’s worth mentioning that there as some things that might grate. Not the great-grandmother I liked her. And I liked what she represented. But she does represent ‘borrowing’ and Pinborough borrows a lot. It can’t be helped. It’s a fairytale. There are conventions and expectations, which kind of spoils my point about Disneyfication, but you can lean too heavily and there are points like the names of the dwarfs, where its source material may feel a little too borrowed from.
That’s a niggle. Another niggle is that some things aren’t as smooth as they could be. The step-mothers moods are extreme and could have had more nuisance in the middle range. But again it’s irritant like an itch. Nothing that’s worth picking at.
Poison really does feel like Pinsborough is showing a world where women in fairy tales should be seen as women, sexual, dangerous, and real rather than something that can be projected on as they lie in a box like a warm corpse only for the charming prince to realise after who his love truly is after she’s woken up and strayed from his ideal.
To answer the original question: it is a wicked, delicious and sexy fairytale and well worth reading.
“On Amazon, Dead Ever After has received 366 one-star reviews, compared with 124 five-star reviews. One reader described the ‘extreme disappointment’ they felt with the novel by pointing to a blog post claiming that ‘if Charlaine Harris had written the Harry Potter series, the end of Deathly Hallows would have Harry sleeping in the cupboard under the stairs with the spiders and no magic. While Voldemort would move in across the street, taunt him daily, and dispense life advice.”
I think this comment says it all:
Does this remind anyone else of that novel/film Misery?
“Write a better ending or I’m going to break your legs, burn your entire novel and keep you here untill you make the ending I want”
This is poignant at it is a counterpoint to Star Trek Into Darkness that goes out of it’s way to give the fans what they want to complete its detriment (this link contains spoilers but I’ve left a comment explaining my thoughts with spoilers). It’s still an amazing blockbuster but doesn’t move Star Trek on. And that’s all I’m saying on that.
Back to Charlaine Harris. I’ve read A Touch of Dead, which is a collection of shorts based in Sookie’s world, but not explored further though I’ve had Dead Until Dusk gathering dust for a while. I’d rather read more of her fun cozy crime The Aurora Teagarden Mysteries series. But that’s a preference thing. I’ve done my vampires with Anne Rice and Poppy Z. Brite in my teenage years. I’ve read recently Charlie Huston’s take on vampires and enjoyed that too. What I’m basically saying is that I’m not invested in this 13 book series but if I was would I feel that Harris should have provided a ‘happy ever after’ ending?
My first thought was well that’s a shame. It’s always nice to get that payoff. But life isn’t like that. I don’t know what threads that Harris has been weaving and whether that would be doing the story a disservice. I trust Harris knows exactly what her story needs and it wasn’t a happy ending then so be it. The story is the first priority and the only priority unless you can add little nods and winks and crowd pleasing things that enhance the enjoyment.
There are writers who tell stories by numbers but good on Charlaine Harris for not being one of them. It’s just a shame that some ‘fans’ only see her as a sausage factory.
With a bit of luck and strong wind (as we haven’t recorded it yet and I’m hoping I’m not jinxing it) Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is going to be this month’s book club choice on The Readers. Doing a bit of research I came across the trailer and it really does encapsulate the book.
Has anyone read it and got anything they’d like to ask?
Are you influenced or engaged? Are you an influencer or an influencee? I’m pondering this because Alan Bowden aka @wordsofmercury used the phrase ‘The Anxiety of Influence’ in a twitter conversion earlier today, though he was referring to The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry by Harold Bloom, I didn’t quite twig that at the time but it got me thinking nonetheless about what could described as ‘social reading’ and if it’s healthy.
I have a vested interest of course. I’ve been blogging about books for almost 8 years. I’m engaged on twitter with amazing book lovers and I record a nice chat with Simon for a book based banter podcast as well as writing the occasional blog post.
I’m sharing my love of reading and books (paper or electronic) constantly. I guess you’d call me an influencer but I’d rather say engaged. Mostly as I’m influenced by those around me. I am not a maverick reader. I don’t read obscure books. I read, mostly, popularist fiction. How do I know it’s popularist? Mostly because when I mention a book I don’t get a ‘WTF is that?’ as a response.
I also read in a genre, SF&F, that is in constant conversion with itself (see Speculative Fiction 2012: The Best Online Reviews, Essays And Commentary for some brilliant examples of just that). You can’t get away from being influenced. Well you could disengage from ‘social reading’ but then you’d miss out on the myriad of ways that it is a positive thing; you can find out what others thought of the book you liked/loathed, you can find recommendations, and you don’t miss ‘hot’ books.
And here is where we come to ‘anxiety’. @Gollancz aka Simon Spanton gave a good example:
The race to ‘have read’ is a pitiless and destructive thing. Re-reading is not only a profound pleasure, it is good and valuable too.
That’s influence at work in a negative way. I’m certainly guilty of being anxious of ‘not having read’. I’m writing this post right now when I have a book that needs reading sharpish and I want to be cracking on with the afore mentioned Speculative Fiction 2012 (I’m trying to influence you to read it right now) and The Science of Discworld (the first one though the fourth one has just come out, which has influenced me to read the first one properly this time).
There is also ‘keeping up with the Jones’s’ when you’re involved in ‘social reading’ you see all these amazing books coming out that you could feel anxious about missing out and are desperate to keep up. I’ve long since stopped trying to keep up though the guilt and anxiety of not ‘keeping up’ hasn’t gone away.
I hope I strike a balance between engaging what is current and what I’m interested by. Though this implies that they are separate things. They’re not. I’m genuinely excited by what is current. There is buzz and hyperbole for sure that does move books up and down the TBR but this is the state of my home library:
@oliagent my shelves are such an eclectic mix of favourite authors, books to try, books I never thought I’d like but did and rarities
If I posted a list of all the books I hope they’d say these are Gav’s shelves rather than these are a generic SFF fans shelves. Though with the crime, lit fic, odd YA, poetry, non-fic and cookbooks I’d hope that was even more unlikely. Maybe making a list of my favourite novels would be more convincing? But I’m obsessing.
And that’s the point of this post: obsession and reading and what you’ve read and what you’re going to read and if they are your choices or if they’re not why and how are others influencing what you read?
There is one concern, which focuses on blogging, and that is homogenisation. Another example of anxiety of influence as well as being too influenced. There are books out there for everyone but it’s worrying when one person loves all the books seemingly without distinction.
I guess where this post has ended up is that you (me) want to give and takie from the circle of engagement rather than feeling your not being you through your reading even when you are (and you are aren’t you?)
“Kari Sperring kicked off the #womentoread hashtag last Wednesday – she explains why here at her website – and her initiative quickly started gaining momentum. I immediately wanted to do my bit to support it, and my first thought was simply to list those women F&SF writers who had most inspired me. I hit on 101 as my goal because it seemed like a good number, big enough to demonstrate just how excellent and wide-ranging women’s fantastika is and always has been. It didn’t take me long to compile the list – and there are so many women writers to choose from that I inevitably had to make some subtractions. But then I decided I wanted to do a bit more than just name people. I wanted to talk about them, too, to discuss their work at least a little, to give readers some idea of why these writers are special to me and why they should read them. I wanted to post links to further discussion, views and reviews, to provide access to a bank of information that would help readers and writers find out more and hopefully delve further into this goldmine.”
Hit the link – yes this one: 101 #womentoread and get selecting and reading.
I’ve read and enjoyed; Margaret Atwood, Angela Carter, Susanna Clarke, Jenni Fagan, Caitlin R Keirnan, Kelly Link, Sarah Pinborough, Karen Russell, Catherynne Valente, and Lucy Wood
I have books that I want to read by; Caitlin R Keirnan, Margo Lanagan, Joyce Carol Oates, Helen Oyeyemi, Tricia Sullivan, G. Willow Wilson, Jo Walton, Daphne du Maurier, Elizabeth Bear, Lauren Beukes, Frances Harding and Juli Zeh looking at me.
I could list a load more women to read that aren’t on that list I hope you can too. Really how hard can it be for people to balance their reading and then celebrate those authors ?
It’s still shocking that there is still a problem of balance
NxyNyx sold her womb somewhere between Punjai and Faleen, on the edge of the desert.
Some opening lines drag you into a story and some make you pause. This made me pause. I’ve read it a few times now and I can’t seem to be bring myself to read more. It doesn’t make me curious about why she did it but it makes me go, ‘how could she?’ If it was a kidney or an eye I guess I’d have a completely different reaction.
What do you think? Are you intrigued? Put off? Or do you not put much weight on opening lines?
Fifteen-year old Anais Hendricks is smart, funny and fierce, but she is also a child who has been let down, or worse, by just about every adult she has ever met. Sitting in the back of a police car, she finds herself headed for the Panopticon, a home for chronic young offenders where the social workers are as suspicious as its residents. But Anais can’t remember the events that have led her there, or why she has blood on her school uniform…
Having pre-conceived ideas of what a novel is about before you read is usually helpful. In fact most books go out of their way to let you know something about themselves. If you’re going to buy a book on impulse it’s usually the cover that catches your eye, and then the blurb, and maybe the opening few pages. Finding out by word of mouth relies on someone giving their own version of the book, which isn’t always a universal version.
When The Panopticon was first being one person (Simon) thought it was sold as having a heavy science fiction thread with the experiment and the watchful panopticon in the young offenders home that Anais (the main character) has been sent to. I though knew it was going to be a literary novel with some SFFness to it but I wasn’t expecting what it turned out to be.
We meet Anais, as it says in the blurb, on her way to Panopticon but we follow a character who is presented as an outsider. She describes herself as an experiment in the prologue. She might be but if you strip away that idea away as a safety valve of an institutionalised teenager you have the same novel but a prism is missing. It’s very much a novel about reality, how it forms around us, how we protect ourselves from others versions of it and that we can’t always appreciate what we have.
Every year Anais allows herself a fantasy thinking about an alternative life, one where she wasn’t born in a petri dish (or was it a test tube she isn’t sure), but this fantasy of a happier life is always knocked back by the reality of her life. The people that she hangs with get her into trouble. She ends up fighting to save friend and she misses someone who drags her back down enough to see him again when she really should move on.
It’s the core of Anais that makes this a book worth reading. She does make mistakes, she does have issues with reality, and she copes with the help of drugs. But given the circumstance she’s in she hopes for a better life. She keeps hope her around like the box that Pandora opened.
Fagan cleverly lets the reader make up their own mind about several of the people in Anais’s life. She is an unreliable narrator in some regards. She’s a fantasist and at the start she’s not sure if the blood on school uniform is that a policewomen who is in a coma. But when it comes to seeing other people she seems bang on. She describes them but their actions are more telling. Like Helen her social worker who things that doing ‘good’ deeds makes her a good person but as Anais doesn’t conform to her idea of a reformed character she drops her. Her boyfriend Jay leads her on is one leads to one of the most gut wrenching scenes.
You also have more positive relationships like the one she has with Angus, who keeps seeing her in a positive light. Her fast friendships with John, Shortie, Tash and other children of the home show different sides to Anais and how those around her effect her. They also demonstrate a range of people who end up in care.
Ultimately though this is Anais’s story and she’s going to tell it in her own unique way.
The Panopticon is one of those novels which you can’t describe as enjoyable but definitely leaves you feeling grateful you’ve read it. It’s a story that is dark, but filled with moments of light and hope. Jenni Fagan is unflinching in her descriptions of Anais’s reality. She shows a world of sex, drugs and violence, and it asks you to question your view of reality.
It’ll leave you thinking that you should never assume what leads to someone’s life being as it is. You never really know what they’ve had to deal with.
The Panopticon is the 8th Book Club Choice on The Readers Podcast, which I co-host with the Simon Savidge, and it’s now available in paperback.
Jenni Fagan has also been included in Granta’s 2013 list of bright British novelists.
“As this is a debut novel and an introduction into this world, should you forgive it for not being smooth? You can, and if all the other elements work, such as snappy dialogue and interesting characters, it makes it much easier.”
I’m on Tor.com reviewing The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty! I can’t quite believe it. It’s a little longer than I normally write but I don’t think I’ve put in any filler.
Anyway I’m very pleased.