crap i have read recently #23

buddy christLife has been possessive these days but I’ve managed to knock a few things off the old reading list.  SPOILERS to follow!


Gone Girl (Flynn, 2012):  Wow, talk about your dysfunctional relationship!  Amy and Nick Dunne seem to be the picture-perfect couple.  She’s “Amazing Amy”, the real-life inspiration for a lucrative series of children’s books and he’s a respected journalist in New York.   Then Nick loses his job and Amy discovers that her parents have spent themselves into bankruptcy and thus need most of what’s left in her trust fund from the books.  The couple move to his smallish home town in Missouri to help care for his dying mother and elderly father.  Nick and his sister open a bar with the last of Amy’s trust fund money.  Nick proceeds to while away his time at the bar and his adjunct teaching job while Amy putters around their big McMansion.  On their fifth wedding anniversary Amy disappears and there is unconvincing evidence of foul play.  In short order Nick is the prime suspect in her assumed murder.

This book was recommended to me by a couple of people who noted how disappointed I’ve been in the modern mysteries that I have read lately.  They both assured me that Gone Girl was not like those voyeuristic torture fests and they were right.  Instead it’s more of a character study, a long look into a profoundly disturbed marriage with a “maybe murder” serving as its jumping off point.  The story is told in alternating points of view.   We are essentially in Nick’s head as the aftermath of Amy’s disappearance progresses and we get Amy’s perspective on their life together from her journals.  From these two sources we get a most confusing picture indeed.  Was Amy the control freak who wore down his love for her with pointless tests of its strength or was Nick the husband who stole her heart and then got bored with it?  Is Nick innocent?   Is Amy dead?  By the middle of the book you’ll know who dunnit and why and the question at that point becomes “will they get away with it?”

If I had to say the book had any sort of take home message it might be that we reserve our deepest hatred for those who disappoint us, who aren’t the people we thought they were.  Nick and Amy meet cute and both put on acts for each other, not an uncommon behavior among strangers.  Amy ironically mocks women who play the Cool Girl while herself working Cool Girl for all she’s worth to get Nick.  Nick is the hip and worldly NYC journalist, both handsome and charming.  They have all the appearance of a happy, well-suited couple.  And by the time she disappears they hate each other.  Nick resents that his Cool Girl doesn’t really like it when he blows off dates with her and sits around in his underwear watching television.  Amy resents his failure, his apathy, his emotional distance, his inability to remember daily trivia that’s important to her.   Given that one of the two is a stone-cold psychopath (and I’m not saying which one it is) that resentment festers into the stuff that good suspense fiction is made of.

This is a pretty good read.  I whipped through it in record time.  There’s only one murder, unless you count the death of love.  In that case…

Score:  Meh


Prince of Nothing series:  The Darkness That Comes Before, The Warrior Prophet, The Thousandfold Thought (2004-2006, R. Scott Bakker):

Where to start with this?  This trilogy was an Amazon “recommended for you!” idea and it seemed intriguing.   The first book really was compelling, the second had a moderate case of  the “going nowhere really slowly” slumps, and the third one…well, I trudged through the third one.  I could barely bring myself to read it.  I don’t think is because the author lost his touch.  I just think that I realized shortly after the start of the third book that I really didn’t give a damn about the outcome of the Holy War or of any of the myriad side-quests involved or of the over-arching “second apocalypse” plot line.   Of the dozens of named characters that drop in and out of the narrative I might have cared about three.  Of these I have no idea of the fates of two and the third survived but lost nearly everything of importance to him.

The tale starts with a child, the last surviving member of the royal family of Anasûrimbor, who has escaped the fate of the rest of his family by hiding in their remote summer house.   There he is found by a reclusive sect of warrior monks called the Dûnyain.  They raise him according to their rather unusual teachings, called the Logos, which stress manipulation of the thoughts and behaviors of  others through rigorous understanding of their body and facial language.   Two thousand years later his descendant Anasûrimbor Kellhus (the titular “Prince of Nothing”) appears in a remote and hostile part of the world, sitting on a Scylvendi burial mound and surrounded by the corpses of the Sranc, a bestial and brutal race of creatures.  As fate would have it (heh), the man who finds him is a Scylvendi warrior named Cnaiür urs Skiötha.  It is his father’s grave that Kellhus sits upon and it was Kellhus’ father Moënghus who put him in it.   Kellhus tells Cnaiür that Moënghus still lives and that he is on his way to kill him.   Cnaiür agrees to help him and the two head to the capital city to join the incipient Holy War to reclaim Shimeh, a holy city to the Men of the Tusk which has been in the hands of the infidel Fanim for far longer than anyone thinks is appropriate.   In the meantime we learn of the affairs of the Holy War, get a healthy dose of Inrithi policits and religion, gain some exposure to the various schools of magic and sorcery, and meet a whole cast of new characters.  First among these is Drusus Achamian, a sorcerer of the Mandate school, whose duty and curse it is to nightly relive the horrific events of the First Apocalypse through the eyes of the sorcerer Seswatha.  Akka loves the whore Esmenet, who loves him in return, but convention and fear keep them from expressing it.  There are also Maithanet, the Shriah of the Thousand Temples; Ikurei Conphas, nephew to the Emporer, an accomplished and much decorated warrior and also a pompous ass; Nersei Proyas, an old student and friend of Akka’s who finds himself running interference for the old sorcerer among the bickering groups of Names; and various creepy representatives of the Consult, a surviving branch of the school of magic that brought about the First Apocalypse and which is hard at work bringing on the Second.

This might give you an idea of the complexity of the books and it’s just a beginning.  The books are deep and many layered, both in terms of character and plot but also with regards to philosophy and meaning.  They are complicated.  To Bakker’s credit he has created a world and history that appears, despite its vast complexity, to be whole and internally consist.   At least in the first book, which serves primarily to introduce us to the many, many characters and factions and conflicts and subterfuges, the necessary background information flows easily and characters and their motivations are established naturally.  We don’t feel told, we feel shown and our immersion in this milieu is effortless.  The two main characters are Achamian and Kellhus, two men, one old and one young, one a captive audience to horror, the other a catalyst and possibly not a good one.  Akka feels himself helpless in the face of his nightly dreams, the juggernaut of the Holy War, and the force of will that is Kellhus.  For his part, Kellhus has two missions, one he is up front about and one that he is not.  Other people exist to further these goals and for no other reason.  He’s not likeable but it takes you and everyone else a long time to realize that.   By the end of the first novel all the players are in place and the armies roll out on their way to Holy Shimeh.  It is only in the second book that the narrative bogged down for me, as the army moves from one one horrific battle to another, as Kellhus becomes a prophet to the soldiers and a threat to their leaders, as Cnaiür eclipses Conphas as leader of the Holy War, as Akka runs afoul of the Scarlet Spires, as Esmenet finds herself drawn to Kellhus because he doesn’t treat her like a whore.   The biblical and historical parallels and allusions grow apace: Akka’s fear of Kellhus is based on a prophecy of a second coming; Kellhus performs what appear to be miracles; Esmenet stands in for Mary Magdalene; at one point Kellhus is essentially crucified and the instrument of his torture becomes the symbol of his sect.   The third novel wraps up the Holy War, Kellhus’ quest to find his father, the Akka-Esmenet relationship, Cnaiür’s enduring shame, the mystery of the Consult, and the lives and deaths of thousands of people and the fates of two civilizations.

So…why didn’t it keep my interest?  Wish I knew.  All I can say is that at some point I just stopped caring.  I literally had to force myself to finish the third book and I only did so out of respect for the author’s craft and effort.  The story resolves abruptly.  I kept looking at my page count, inwardly groaning because there were still so many pages to go, and then it just…stopped.   It turns out that the last 50 pages or so are an appendix that includes all sorts of information about the world and its people and history.   It is so odd to me when stories that take so very long to unfold wrap up so quickly and tie up every end so completely.  However, do not fear.  Bakker leaves us with an obvious hook for sequels; the world of Eärwa is certainly ripe for more stories, both large and small and apparently Bakker plans two more trilogies.

If sweeping, intricate epic trilogies are your thing, then by all means give this one a try.  It is well written and meticulously crafted and I do admit that the idea of a savior for whom the saved are just the means to his own murky ends is intriguing.  Just don’t be surprised if somewhere in the middle of the desert of bones you find yourself totally over it.

Score:  Meh




~ by gun street girl on May 13, 2014.

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