The Invisible Library and the Masked City
I dont have much to say about these. So we will start here. They are the first two of a series by Genevieve Cogman: The Invisible Library and the Masked City. Light holiday
reading. Fun. Nice ideas. One could argue they are a little shallow – and not so well
written in a few places. But they are likeable: I’d be happy to lend them .
There. That was short and sweet and quiet.
The Heart Goes Last
Margaret Atwood is, of course, one of my top women writers (though perhaps AS Byatt will not now be beaten?). Of Atwood’s books The Blind Assassin is probably my favourite. But, she has also written a fair amount of books that are not brilliant. And, a little sadly, the first half of this novel is in that category.
My novel summary: Much of the US has economically collapsed. Society is falling apart. Jobless rates are at 50%. We find the main characters Charmaine and Stan living hand to mouth in their car, their previous well paid jobs both having disappeared in this recession. Their lives are in danger from the many homeless, jobless, and starving people in the surrounds. To regain security and a home, they volunteer to live in sinister walled and gated no-exit toy town.
In this walled town, both end up briefly as the sex-toy of a more powerful inhabitant. Which sounds sort of interesting but, most sadly, in this telling isn’t. Then in a related plot line, Charmaine’s higher level manager `kills’ off Stan so that he can hit on Charmaine himself. She is left with the problem of how to deal with this – she cannot offend him too much – he is too much in charge of her life. And can also sort-of tolerate the idea of sleeping with him for work necessity reasons. But really, she just isn’t that into him – except to save her skin. With a little help from some others, and a lot of mascara, she eventually manages to wriggle her way out of trouble.
I found the first half of the book slow and tedious. I couldn’t really get interested in either the characters or the setting cum plot (tee hee). The author toys with C&S. Her plot toys with them. The other characters very literally toy with them. They both spend periods of work making animal, robotic, and teddy sex toys for others. And so, that is how C&S end up for 66% of the book: little plastic things.
It feels like there is too much author distance. Like what happens to C&S does not touch the author. One could argue it is the opposite end of the scale from the Gaiman (below) book – when at least half of me always believes that there just must (must) be a big element of biographical experience in the book.
But! Wait for it! It does actually finally improve (a bit). Atwood puts in a few twists – ensures that the women eventually gain control of everything – including successfully reprogramming the boss so that he is no longer a danger to others. Ex-boss then finds satisfaction elsewhere – though somewhat sadly not in a little blue teddy bear .
So, its interesting enough at the end. And impressive enough. In its way. But I wouldn’t really recommend the first two thirds. They are a bit dull.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane
A friend asked What is the big deal about Neil Gaiman? It is a reasonable question. In short, he is now possibly my favourite writer. And is one of the sexiest writers around. (The pictures of him in his books don’t harm this impression : -) . But It’s The Writing. Coupled with the imaginative landscape that he inhabits. Frankly, I don’t think so many women would say no to him.
Anyway, the latest of his that I read is this one, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I have not looked at any reviews of this book. And I finished it a few weeks ago.
Its quite a short book. Maybe a two to three evening read. And at its heart it is a lovely simple tale. And, as so often Gaiman stories, I cant shake the notion that he is not writing out a fictionalised-altered version of his own reality .
My novel summary: As a child the main character lives in a world of books. He expects little of the world and in turn, or perhaps by way of explanation, little is given to him in return. At age 7 (?) a traumatic event triggers his friending by an older, apparently 11, girl named Lettie. And by her family who live on a nearby farm. Lettie’s farm family (and Lettie) are Gods and need to address the awaking of a malevolent spirit. Things go wrong when Lettie takes the boy along as she attempts to tackle the malevolent spirit. That first attempt at the problem does not go right. And both have to tackle further fallout as best they can. Eventually the 11 year old friend sacrifices herself to protect the younger boy. In turn, he returns time and again as an adult to the God’s family farm – though tends not to remember the visits.
The merging the fantasy and human elements is, I think, what elevates Neil Gaiman’s writing. And here in this short novel it works with particular beauty: the depiction of the boy’s family; the ease with which family members are subverted by the malevolent spirit; the attempt by the farm-family to ease the boy’s suffering and support him. If pushed to find something to criticise, perhaps the description of the malevolent spirit in non-human-like form was always going to present difficulties? I did struggle a little with sheet-ghost-like description. But that really is scratching around to find anything that jarred. Even just a little. I love Neil Gaiman’s books.
Just read this half an hour ago with the kids: Evil Weasel. We get through a fair number of library books – 10-20 a week maybe. Though if we dont get back to the library at the weekend – they just get re-read again and again. I know I don’t usually mention children’s books, but I liked this one a lot. It tickled the three of us tonight.
Can evil W learn to be good? What will happen to the crocodiles in his moat? And just what is W doing with that innocent little yellow shrew?? 
 I just started the third one – and reserve the right to come back and write something at least marginally more interesting on all three!
 Who was Gaiman’s 11 year old friend?
 Read it?
 Go on – read it!