Sunday, April 06, 2008

Ranking pages

I'm almost done with the new Jeanette Winterson novel, The Stone Gods, and much to my surprise I've really enjoyed it—actually the mere fact that I've read so much of my own volition is telling. I usually find Winterson's overheated rococo stylings tiresome but this time around she's harnessed them in the service of an absorbing science-fiction tale. The sci-fi angle has more holes than a moth-eaten sweater and feels like a mere excuse for meditations on the power of language and what it means to be human, but then that's what sci fi is often for and I'm not enough of a purist to begrudge Winterson's cavalier attitude towards plot mechanics.

I'm particularly happy to enjoy Winterson because I'd been on a frustrating roll lately—except for Richard Price's new Lush Life, which is a good ol' read, particularly if you're familiar with the New York locale. But it was downhill after that. For instance I got my mitts on a handful of reissues of early-20th-century adventure classics such as H. Rider Haggard's She and Conan Doyle's The Lost World, all in a rather nice collection of $10 undersize pocket books that actually fit in a pocket (thank you, Penguin). That's the good news. Since I read them all as a kid, I started off with G.K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday (1908); despite the book's good rep, I was bored stiff by its allegorical rampage—elegantly written but please deliver me from Christian authors. Still, I can see how this could make for a good movie. (Weird how this can be a disparaging assessment for a book.)

I was also let down by two Scandi noirs: K.O. Dahl's The Fourth Man tries to update the typical femme-fatale-leading-to-cop's-fall premise but is so dull that it almost tumbled off my hands, while HÃ¥kan Nesser's The Return is a middling procedural that does not stand out from the pack. I'm such a sucker for Scandi noir that I keep falling for it—I'd been disappointed by Nesser's Borkmann's Point, for instance, and yet I inexplicably went back for more.

Disappointing yet again, but this time because of poor editing: Angie David's Dominique Aury. I actually bought that book quite a while ago but never got around to actually reading it from beginning to end, contenting myself with grazing some chapters. Whoever was supposed to help David shape her manuscript was asleep at the wheel: redundancies and repetitions abound, along with unfortunate contradictions. This was hard to avoid because David structured her bio not chronologically but thematically, so some things are bound to pop up more than once, but a better editor would have made her cut the book by at least a third. Still, those interested in the politics and inner workings of the post-WWII French literary scene will find plenty to discover in there.

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