Thursday, 8 January 2015

Beautiful Writing

I read plenty of comments and reviews from people on books who complain that the book is too slow or that the plot didn't make much sense. These may be valid criticisms but I have seen comments like this for books that I like a lot and I couldn't disagree with the comments. So I wondered what it was I liked about the books.

After only a little thought I had the answer: sometimes the writing is just breathtakingly beautiful and the plot or characters are just there as an excuse to read it. Writing can be lyrical, poetic, clever or imaginative and still be a good read even if there is little actual content.

Part of this is that I do have a certain penchant for 'nothing happens'. I love the films 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris (the original Russian one; I've not seen the remake). Yes they are good science fiction films but what makes them good to watch is that nothing really happens for vast amounts of viewing time - but nothing happens in such a beautiful and hypnotic way that when the point of film, the central idea, is enacted it creates something special.

Writing can be the same, but as with film, the writing has to be exception otherwise it really is just tedious to read. Two recent examples where other readers struggled are described below along with why I liked them; that may give other readers a clue if they might like the book or not.

This isn't to say that all slow books are worth it. For every gem there are any number of exceptionally tedious works; but then one person's gem is another's hell (don't get me started on Dickens).

The City & The City by China Mieville
As with all of Mieville's books this is a very intellectual idea wrapped up in a story. In this case the story revolves around a detective investigating a murder. For me the actual plot is really just a coat hanger to drape the brilliant descriptions around. As a detective story is moves very slowly and isn't particularly deft. But the joy is in the descriptions of the unique setting and the reactions of the detective as he 'treats' himself to breaking the apparent psychological conditioning of the people. Or his reactions when he is outside of the system and sees it with fresh eyes. This is all helped by no explanation of the peculiar geo-political situation of the two cities of the title and all the clues come from the hints as filtered through the eyes of the hero. I don't read this book for the plot. I read it for the descriptions.

The Court Of The Air by Stephen Hunt
I am still reading this book and taking my time but I have seen comments from readers who found it hard going. By and large they seemed to read this expecting a steampunk novel and although it is set in a sort of strange technology version of Victorian England and does have steam driven robot sentient beings I wouldn't really describe it as steam punk in any way. And again it moves slowly and here the wonder of Hunt's imagination is what keeps the book alive. I like books set in alternative universes where things are a little different to ours, but this really does push it to the limits. It's not that things are mostly similar but with some interesting differences; rather nearly everything different and it's just the flavour that seems Victorian. There are little traces of history that run parallel to ours and teasing those out while enjoying the huge imagination at work to create such a deep and detailed world is what this book is about. I know that at the end the various threads will come together and there will be a climactic and action-packed ending but until then, sit back and enjoy the ride.

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