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What I've Finished Reading

This week is going to be a catching-up week, in which I scramble for something to say about last Wednesday's reading. Next week will probably have a similar catching-up quality, if I get to it at all.

Guards! Guards! was the affectionate noir parody I was promised, with drunken and cynical Night Watch Captain Vimes pulled reluctantly through crisis toward a slighty soberer and less acute cynicism. It's also an affectionate parody of high fantasy tropes and of every love letter ever written to a city that couldn't care less. I enjoyed it even more than I expected to, which was already a lot.

In Ankh-Morpork, "oldest and greatest and grubbiest of cities," crime has become so thoroughly organized that the criminal guilds are now fully overseen by the state. This suits the guilds and helps boost tax revenues, but unfortunately for Captain Vimes' self-respect, means that the Watch, the city police, has been reduced to a vestigial cluster of unemployables, whose only job is to call out the all's-well every hour on the hour whether all is well or not. Vimes dreams drunkenly of the days when being in the Watch meant something, and drinks to forget about how much he's been drinking.

But the predictable shambles of Vimes' life is thrown into a much less predictable shambles when the new volunteer arrives -- a six-foot-six adopted son of dwarf parents called Carrot Ironfoundersson. Carrot is too tall for the mines and his rapid and extravagant human puberty is a threat to dwarf social organization, so he has been bundled off down the mountain with an outdated lawbook, a battered old sword, and a heart full of the desire to do good. No matter how much Vimes and his men try to explain their actual duties, Carrot keeps trying to arrest people.

Then the dragon shows up.

Carrot is an inspired character, both caricature and sympathetic, an innocent fish out of several kinds of water. His letters home are pure gold. I don't think a single page went by with him in it that didn't make me laugh. Sybil Ramkin, the hearty breeder of small swamp dragons who helps the Watch get a handle on dragon physiology, and the Librarian of Unseen University, who was changed into an orangutan some time back but isn't about to let it cost him his job, are also pretty great, as is Vimes himself with his noir-esque gutter monologues. And I was happy to see brief appearances by both Death and Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler, a fence who is always going on (probably inaccurately) about how little he is making on his sales. But Pratchett's writing is also terrific on the sentence level, full of neat turns that are downright Wodehousian at times. Sometimes you see the joke coming a mile away, and sometimes it sneaks up on you, and both ways are good ways.

There is much more going on than I can adequately describe, most of it excellent. Thank you to everyone who encouraged me to read more Terry Pratchett, and this book in particular! It was good advice and I'm glad I took it.

I like Burgess' comment on Scenes from Provincial Life that Joe, the narrator, "is an anarchist who would be less at home in an anarchical society than he is in a bourgeois one." (I keep forgetting to go back and read what Burgess says about his novels). Joe's "rebellion" is so low-key and low-stakes that it didn't really register for me as rebellion at all -- just a very ordinary college-level mild bohemianism -- and so that aspect of the story didn't have the same weight for me that it did for Burgess.

I guess I was less interested in the Predictable Arc of Mild Bohemianism -- in which Joe and his friends talk a muddled game about ideals and eventually settle down to prosperous middle-class marriages -- and more in their conversations and rows along the way, which are lovingly detailed in all their tangled aspiration and self-construction and selfishness. Joe's indecisiveness about moving to America (he knows Britain is about to become a fascist hellhole, but it doesn't feel like it yet, and in the meantime, the weather is great right now and his students seem to like him) and his possessiveness toward and total failure to understand Myrtle, and all those friendships that were half careful curation of impressions and half willful misunderstanding, rang very true to me. That makes it sound a little cynical, but it didn't feel cynical when I was reading it. It's quiet and matter-of-fact.

I'm much less certain what to say about The Disenchanted, mainly because I have a lot of strong feelings about F. Scott Fitzgerald (though I'm not always sure what they are). I read it pretty quickly, in the expected mounting anxiety. Fictional Scott is a diabetic and a recovering alcoholic who is not supposed to drink, but because he doesn't like people to know about his embarrassing old-man ailments, no one knows how dangerous it is for his health, and because he was famous ten years ago for his extravagant binges, well-meaning admirers keep making him presents of champagne and nudging him knowingly in the ribs. At first he's too embarrassed to say no, and then he doesn't want to. He's been hired to co-write the screenplay for a fluffy college comedy called Love on Ice. He joins an admiring/despairing/inescapably condescending young writer on a cross-country trip, ostensibly to do research for the picture, but it goes south quickly and keeps getting worse. Fictional Scott descends into nostalgia and self-pity, a bunch of superficially comic mishaps turn horrible, the college students F.S. hoped would make him feel young again laugh at him and barely see him, and clarity comes the only way it can: too late.

The poaching of Fitzgerald's life is totally shameless, and I kept feeling that I ought to want to "protect" Fitzgerald from it somehow (not that he didn't always shamelessly poach his own life), but maybe the book is good enough that it doesn't matter? I just don't know. I honestly don't know if I love it or am angry with it, so for now it's both.

What I'm Reading Now

Possession is nine-tenths of the law, and also the name of a book I have spent decades not reading, despite having been assured many times that it is full of the things I like (represented so far: epigraphs from real authors, epigraphs from made-up authors, unexpected discoveries of letters, people getting book flakes on their fingers, shocking thefts of valuable letters from a library). Well, those days are over! osprey_archer is reading Possession and I have agreed to read Possession, too. I am only on Chapter One, but I look forward to this new, post-Possession era of my life. It's a largeish book with a hell of a lot of epigraphs, and you know how easy it is to impress me by throwing a big plateful of epigraphs my way. Candy from a baby.

The story so far: A guy is doing research on a nineteenth century poet when he stumbles on a couple of drafts of a letter to an unknown lady admirer, tucked into a book from the poet's library. Who is she? Was the letter ever mailed? Did they meet again? Why this sudden confusion of passion? Will this change everything we think we know about the poet and his life? Our researcher slips the letters into one of his own books and goes away rippling with questions.

What I'm hoping it will turn out to be: another edge-of-the-seat academic fact-hunt like The Daughter of Time only with less face detection and less unwarranted gloating about miners. One of the back-jacket blurbs calls it a "thriller," which either supports my theory or undermines it, depending what The Times (London) thinks count as thrills.

What I Plan to Read Next

Shit, A Dance to the Music of Time is twelve volumes? And A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight is fifteen! Fucking hell, Anthony Burgess.

For some reason, I was thinking these were quartets, like the Alexandria Quartet (also counted as a single novel in 99 Novels). But no.


( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 8th, 2016 06:01 am (UTC)
Jun. 8th, 2016 11:38 am (UTC)
Have you read The Scarlet Rider by Lucy Sussex? It's a gorgeous combination of a mystery, an academic hunt and a ghost story. The heroine, a girl who has finished university and had no luck finding a job is offered one, trying to find out if a novel published as a serial during the gold rush was written by a woman, because a feminist press wants to re-publish it. And the novel was written pre-Internet, so the author, a former uni academic herself, has her heroine doing her research the hard - but fascinating - way!
Jun. 8th, 2016 01:06 pm (UTC)
Oh man, I have to read that. I love literary mysteries where the breathless excitement hangs on the main character's ability to find yet another little slip of paper that will tell them about authorship.
Jun. 8th, 2016 01:50 pm (UTC)
Ooo. No I haven't, but it sounds like I should!
Jun. 9th, 2016 01:49 am (UTC)
The original Tor edition may be out of print, but it has recently been reprinted by Ticonderoga, a small press in Australia, and I must say, the cover is much better than the one she got from Tor!
Jun. 8th, 2016 01:17 pm (UTC)
I am also curious about the description of this book as a thriller. I think either it must get thrilling halfway through, or possibly the critic who wrote that is used to reading books in which nothing more exciting happens than a slightly tense tea party, so the whole scene where Roland purloins the letters felt breathlessly exciting. And the thrills only ratchet up from there!

I do find it engrossing, but that's not quite the same thing as thrilling.
Jun. 8th, 2016 01:57 pm (UTC)
I did gasp! when Roland took the letters. Roland, no! Alert a librarian! I also understood the powerful temptation, but still, no! Libraries are for everyone, Roland, not just for you! :O

We'll see, I guess, what the thrills turn out to be.
Jun. 8th, 2016 02:36 pm (UTC)
Hurrah for Guards!Guards!:)

As Burgess is cheating, then surely you are allowed to cheat by not reading all the volumes?
Jun. 8th, 2016 10:27 pm (UTC)
We'll see what happens! If I absolutely hate Powell or the other guy, I won't feel duty-bound to read all 5,000,000 pages or whatever it comes out to. I feel I should give them a fair hearing, though. And since I'm willing to read 30+ books in any given detective series, and thousands of pages of Proust trying to fall asleep and not succeeding, I feel I shouldn't balk too much at reading a dozen or so books of whatever these are. But I won't chain myself to them and throw away the key! I might still complain a little, though.
Jun. 9th, 2016 02:57 pm (UTC)
Yikes, 5 million pages of something you hate is too much. It'd dangerous to your health to carry on reading it all! You might end up like my icon.
Jun. 8th, 2016 04:46 pm (UTC)
Shit, A Dance to the Music of Time is twelve volumes? And A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight is fifteen! Fucking hell, Anthony Burgess.

I agree with Liadt - if he's going to cheat like that, you should reserve the right to cheat in return in whatever way works best for you.

Aww, so glad you enjoyed Guards! Guards! I was going to quote everything you wrote back at you because I liked it so much as a description of the book, but it occurred to me that would be more than a tad redundant. So I'm just glad you enjoyed it & hope you continue to enjoy any more Pratchett you encounter in between 99 Novels and all the detectives.
Jun. 8th, 2016 10:39 pm (UTC)

I understand your icon now! <3

I'm going to withhold judgment on the Novel Cycles until I get their respective Volume Ones home from the library and have a look at them. Maybe they'll be great and I'll want to keep reading, maybe they'll be good but exhausting, maybe something else.

Twelve or fifteen books sounds like a lot, but maybe it's not a lot. For example, right now I think I could easily read twelve or fifteen Pratchett books in quick succession and not feel at all like I was being force-marched to Isengard on bad rations. It depends on what kind of books they are.
Jun. 9th, 2016 04:29 pm (UTC)
Haha, it's a good icon, isn't it? In itself & also because it works for Discworld, Buffy, Librarians, being slightly shocked, and anything Anthony Head related, too. :-) (I believe it was made by kathyh. It's one I've had a long while & can't dump.)

Reading Vol 1 for each sounds like a sensible plan. *nods*

Yes, but some novels are like being force-marched to Isengard on bad rations, so vol 1 reading and deciding sounds like a good idea to me. Just think of the pleasure you can have, getting back at Burgess by wantonly crossing off 11 or 14 novels at a go. Take that, you cheat! ;-p

(Or possibly you'll adore them, of course. But that's also good.)
Jun. 9th, 2016 01:22 am (UTC)
I'm so glad to hear you liked Guards! Guards!

And Possession is one of those books I also feel like I would probably enjoy, if only I ever get around to actually reading it.
Jun. 12th, 2016 07:23 pm (UTC)
It's not too late to join the Possession Reading Club! I haven't gotten very far this week due to circumstances; we can be behind osprey_archer together!

Guards! Guards! was so much fun, and also kind of unexpectedly heartwarming? I'm going to read the sequel (Men At Arms) as soon it comes in through ILL -- is it as good? Maybe you shouldn't tell me & I'll just find out eventually.
Jun. 13th, 2016 08:02 pm (UTC)
is it as good? Maybe you shouldn't tell me & I'll just find out eventually.

I remember it as being very good! But then, I'm not sure I've reread it in the last 15 years, so take that with a grain of salt.
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )


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