proustbot: (But it was she and not the sea we heard)
[personal profile] proustbot
Comps Hell is over. Time to read some novels!

Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games (2008) -- I was at a party recently, and my friend Wellington wanted to know what I thought of The Hunger Games.

I told him that I thought it was a well-engineered piece of YA fiction: everything about it (the violence, the present tense, the first-person voice, the simplicity of the vocabulary) seemed specifically designed for a twelve-year-old boy resistant to reading.

Wellington’s face fell. He had really liked The Hunger Games. (To be fair, he also really likes Tom Clancy novels. I do not go to Wellington for book recommendations.)

Well, I said. Well. I also liked the fact that this book -- designed as it was for middle-school boys -- featured a heroine, and not only that, but a heroine who was so unapologetic and angry. One can certainly fault Katniss for being a one-note character in a one-dimensional world -- everything in The Hunger Games is made from cardboard -- but anger is still a luxury rarely afforded to girls in children's fiction. It was nice to see Katniss’ rage.

Ah, Wellington said. Just wait until the later books. She gets really angry.

Josephine Tey, To Love and Be Wise (1951) -- When the disturbingly handsome photographer Leslie Searle goes missing in a little English town inhabited by writers and actors, Detective-Sergeant Alan Grant investigates whether the enigmatic Searle is dead -- by accident or intention.

I really liked Tey’s Daughter of Time, which was a whimsical subversion of mystery-genre conventions. (The plot concerns the bedridden Grant “solving” the 1483 disappearance of the Princes in the Tower.) I like To Love and Be Wise less, although I suppose it is equally playful about genre conventions. (SPOILER ALERT: Mostly, I feel disappointed at the ways in which the “twist” -- Leslie as a cross-dressing, identity-faking Angel Of Vengeance -- is far simpler and shallower than it could be. Tey does not capitalize upon the opportunities of her premise.)

(Lisa Lutz, The Spellman Files (2007) -- Wise-cracking Izzy Spellman and her private-investigation firm -- consisting of her father, mother, and morally-negotiable teenage sister -- solve cases and get on one another’s nerves. This book, told from the first-person perspective of Izzy, has a delicious voice but zero sense of plot, pacing, or tension. I gave up halfway through.)

Eva Rice, The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets (2005) -- In 1954 London, eighteen-year-old Penelope befriends the DeLancey family -- impetuous Charlotte, acerbic Harry, and dynamic Aunt Clare -- and slowly finds her life suffused with friendship, schemes, rock-and-roll, and magic.

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets is a clear love note to Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle, and narrator Penelope’s thoughtfully awkward voice, lovingly dysfunctional family, and enormous crumbling estate traces a clear line of descent from Cassandra Mortmain. These are all good things: I Capture the Castle is one of my favorite novels, and The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets is a loving homage.

There are a series of eleventh-hour bummers -- including one that I think is intended as a critique of the enormous-crumbling-estate genre -- and the novel is perhaps a little too arch and on-the-nose about the teenage youthquake phenomenon of the 1950s, but despite these blemishes, The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets is sustained by some wonderful scenes -- an unsupervised weekend of teenagers playing house, a fancy dress party, a meditative afternoon spent with Harry in the ghostly Long Gallery -- that are beautifully cosy and true.

Charlotte’s coat was exquisitely comfortable and warm. It seemed a little slice of her had stayed hidden in its lining, and it felt strange, like putting on a mask. [9]

The garden sat so still in front of us, listening carefully to every word, I thought. As the grey dawn began to break, I ran up to the house and put Johnnie Ray on again, throwing open the ballroom windows so that the cold air was suddenly full of that voice, and America, and we all sat perfectly still, not speaking, barely daring to breathe, so it seemed to me. I trembled on the bench and clamped my teeth together to stop them from chattering. It felt as if there were sparks coming out of my fingertips; everything was most reverently alive. My head buzzed with caffeine; I felt dizzy from lack of sleep and the coldness of the sharp, frosty morning in my smoky lungs. [101]

Date: 2012-06-02 08:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I wrote a review thing for Hunger Games! ( I think Collins did some very interesting things with her world. Second book was pretty okay. Third book was...nnnnnnot as good. If any of the HG books come across as cardboard cutouts to me, it's Mockingjay. It seemed to abandon the brutal real-life themes presented in the first book in favour of narrating a video game.

In general though, yeah, I'm glad Katniss was allowed to be angry, unfeminine, and have body hair.


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