Tag Archives: epistolary

Book Review: Wolf Tower: Ahead of the Pack

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Claidi is an unlikely, “plain” girl trapped in a love triangle.  On the one hand, there’s the golden prince, Nemian, with whom she is instantly, on sight in love.  Though he can be short with her, he always comes back and apologizes and assures her that he needs her.  On the other, there’s Argul, the leader of a “family” of bandits, of whom she is at first terrified.  He comes to her rescue, but she then has rather little interaction with him because he is busy looking after everyone in his train till during a celebration in a city of clockwork and colored glass he spends the whole night dancing with her.  She respects him.  He is a true leader, but she has promised to follow Nemian.

Now, that sounds like the plot of Twilight and all its hoard, but Tanith Lee wrote Wolf Tower and The Claidi Journals before Stephanie Meyer published a word and while Claidi may fall quickly and mushily for Nemian and while I think I would prefer the story if Claidi relied less upon her men (she really could have probably executed her escape from the City without Argul, though certainly it was convenient for him to provide the horse and to be about so that they could ride off together into the figurative sunset), there’s still much here to appreciate.

Wolf Tower is a journey book.  It begins with a disruption of Claidi’s life of drudgery and structure, which leads to her escape from that life, and then the majority of the novel is spent in Claidi’s discovery of the various cultures and wonders of the world beyond the House in which she grew up.  Lee paints vivid pictures of some of the places: Peshamba and the Rain Gardens.  Her cultures are varied and fairly well formed for the short amount of time that we get to spend with most of them.  All this too Lee paints while still having Claidi believably in the dark as to the people’s languages, picking up only slowly on the language of the Hulta, Argul’s train with whom she spends the most time.

Color might be the word of the novel, color and vitality.

Here, the epistolary format (journal) is done, I hope, to underscore Claidi’s disregard for rules, as foreshadowing for the rules that she will break.  It also helps to show the passage of time as sometimes Claidi simply puts “NTW” (nothing to write) (6) before her life becomes exciting.  Even in the Waste, some entries simply state “Depressed.  /  Have now been here eight days, also depressed.  /  Depressed” (77).

The epistolary form here is not too jarring or awkward, though Claidi’s frequently describes her current emotional or physical state before saying that she had better leap back and tell it from the beginning because we, her imaginary reader, would probably prefer that.  By referring to the imagined reader, Claidi draws the reader into her story.

My impression Wolf Tower is rather colored by the recommendation that I received from my friend at Building a Door, whose writing has, I think, been pretty heavily influenced by this childhood love of hers.  I enjoyed the game of drawing parallel’s between my friend’s writing and Lee’s.

Wolf Tower left me initially wanting just a little more resolution.

***1/2

Lee, Tanith.  The Claidi Collection, Book One: Wolf Tower.  New York: Dutton-Penguin, 2003.

Wolf Tower first published 1998.  British title, Law of the Wolf Tower.

This review is not endorsed by Tanith Lee, Dutton Children’s Books or Penguin Group.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Reviews: Perks and Catcher: Differences of Narrative Styles

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Especially following so closely on the heels of J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, I did not expect to like Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower—or perhaps I should have assumed that I would like it by comparison.  The two books share much:  Both are the bildungsroman of young boys who live apart in some way from the rest of the world and, I would argue, have some psychological barrier that helps to skewer their perspective of and distance them from the world (Charlie’s in Perks being explained and Holden Caulfield’s in Catcher being left unmentioned by the author; potentially, though, both suffer from, for one, the unresolved grieving a close family member).  Both books were recommended to me by friends and read at their insistence.  Both are books that I probably ought to have read for classes (Catcher more so than Perks more because of its age than anything else, The Catcher in the Rye having first been published in 1951, and Perks having been first published in 1999).  Both are written in styles (stream-of-consciousness and epistolary) that I tend to dislike.

So why did I dislike one and like the other?

I’ve talked with the friend who recommended Perks to me regarding this question:  One reason she gave was simple: the writing’s better, and both of us being writers, that means something to us and certainly for me does greatly influence how I view books as a whole.  The writing is better because, for one, it uses curse words infrequently, giving them the weight that was stolen from them by their blasé use in The Catcher in the Rye.  Salinger also seems to have tried too hard.  To pun, Holden’s narrative felt “phony.”  I don’t think that I dare pass judgment on Salinger and Chbosky, but as this same friend who recommended Perks posited, Chbosky, sadly, probably, judging from the “realness” of the writing, went through what Charlie does, is probably Charlie.  I wonder if Chbosky was writing out of a need for release, and Salinger was trying to write literature.

Catcher is, more than a narrative, a collection of philosophical ramblings stitched together by his probably in some way misaligned mind.

Charlie tells the reader a clearer narrative.  Chbosky creates a cast of characters that remain present throughout the book, even in their absence.  These characters react to the narrative.  Herein is the main difference between two stories loosely framed by a stretch of time—Holden’s time living alone in New York City and Charlie’s school year.

Catcher’s cast is far smaller and far less fleshed out, and most are absent from the plot—such as it is—making them seem more like sketches than actors.  I can gather that Holden is disturbed and depressed; his sister is sweet, young, and flighty; his brother is in LA trying to deal with reality; his parents are probably present but absent; he has had several good teachers who actually care for him; and there is one girl whom he considers more than just an object with which to have sex.  Only his sister and very briefly a few of these teachers actually interact with Holden within the story.

Perks is more strongly plot-driven, and that may be my preference.

Also, Charlie is actively trying to connect, unlike Holden.  Charlie may therefore be more likeable.

*****                                                  **

Chbosky, Stephen.  The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  New York: MTV/Pocket-Gallery-Simon & Schuster, 1999.

Salinger, J. D.  The Catcher in the Rye.  New York: Back Bay-Little, Brown-Hachette, 2001.  First published 1945.

These reviews are not endorsed by Stephen Chbosky, J. D. Salinger, MTV Books, Pocket Books, Gallery Books, or Simon & Schuster, Inc, Back Bay Books, Little, Brown, & Company, or Hachette Book Group.  They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

Book Review: Evelina: The History of a Young Lady’s Reentrance into My Life

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Here is a review of a much older book, a book, in fact, first printed in 1778 (goodness, this book is barely younger than my country!): Evelina by Frances Burney.  This is a book familiar to a number of this blogs’ potential readers as assigned reading from our 17th and 18th Century Literature class, and those same readers will probably know that I enjoyed this book enough the first time through to rescue it from resale on Half.com.  An epistolary novel of letters primarily between the young Evelina Anville and her guardian Rev. Villars, the letters tell of Evelina’s emergence from the country house of her childhood into society, the splash that she makes among the men there, and ends as so many of these novels do, with her marriage to a good man above her station.  The innocence of Evelina’s youth and the delicacy of her upbringing make her an apt lens through which Burney can critique the society—and the gentlemen—of the day.  Full of flowery language, plentiful flattery, and larger-than-life characters, those willing to wade to through the dense 18th century prose, will find a number of amusing though at times grotesque stories to delight as well as love-story worthy of the admiration that Jane Austen’s have received and a tragic family drama.

As enjoyable a second time around as the first, though I have never much been a fan of epistolary writing in general, Burney perhaps succeeds in the medium where more modern writers fail because of the ample letter-writing practice that I’m sure she received.  The letter is a dying art form in the wave of more immediate message-sending methods.  Here, the letters seems less forced than they frequently seem to me to be in other novels, and Burney does not struggle, as some writers seem to do, with how or whether to include details.  I have realized that this is another book like Austen’s where the reader is given very few descriptions of the characters, but the reader hardly notices the absence.  More frequently, Evelina describes in brief the clothes that characters have on (Burney reserves a particular distaste for the fop) than their physical appearance.  I think I would have to read the novel again with the intention of looking to discover whether even anyone’s build is stated.

What Evelina has that many of Austen’s characters do not is a truly horrific back-story upon which to found her entrance into society.  For that, Evelina is perhaps darker than most Austen novels, as Evelina must deal with cruelties that few Austen characters ever know.  It is early in the novel revealed that Evelina is the unacknowledged daughter of Sir John Belmont, who cast-off her mother, unlawfully annuling their marriage, and that she has been unlooked for too by grandmother, Madame Duval.

The first half, filled as it is, with balls and faux pas, I actually, romantic that I am, find less enjoyable than the last book, where both the romance and Evelina’s petitions to her father are more central and more emotional.  My least favorite is volume II, of which the grossness of Captain Mirvan or the Branghtons is a large part.  Though these characters serve as amusement and Burney’s command of dialect is impressive, some of the Captain’s tricks really are terrible.

****

Burney, Frances.  Evelina, or, The history of a young’s lady’s entrance into the world.  Ed. Edward A. Bloom.  New York: Oxford World’s Classics-Oxford UP, 2008.

This review is not endorsed by Frances Burney, those in charge of her estate, Edward A. Bloom, or Oxford University Press.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.