30 Apr 2005

An Instance of the Fingerpost

An Instance of the Fingerpost, Iain Pears

Historically-set murder mystery. Mystical ending. A rare structure: four manuscripts tell the same story, in sequence, from four different angles. Only the last writer has access to all the other manuscripts. And thus the exciting and unexpected truth is hidden from us until the very end.

The trouble is that it takes a great deal of pain to read through the first three manuscripts. It's as if the author's heart wasn't really in them, but he knew he had to write them to fulfill form. A gruelling read; somewhat rewarding at the end. Some of the historical details (English renaissance) are interesting.

23 Apr 2005

Harry Potter et le prisonnier d'Azkaban

Harry Potter et le prisonnier d'Azkaban, J. K. Rowling, tr. Jean-François Ménard Very good escapist fiction. Again, I saw a couple of lapses in the resolution of the story at the end, but the book was impossible to put down. The continuity in the series is becoming impressive, because Rowling is maintaining a rather mundane form (one book=one year at school, Harry saves world), but each time she adds more elements, and these elements do not conflict, but rather reveal more information about the previous books. Which indicates that Rowling must have a fairly large plan in her head to keep all this straight.

11 Apr 2005

Harry Potter et la chambre de secrets

Harry Potter et la chambre de secrets, J. K. Rowling, tr. Jean-François Ménard - Again, once I started, I could not stop reading it, and images of Harry kept floating into my consciousness at inconvenient times of the day. I find the story is again fairly classic, and slightly more solid than the first book, although there are one or two elements that feel a little contrived. Nevertheless, excellent reading.

2 Apr 2005

Harry Potter à l'école des sorciers

Harry Potter à l'école des sorciers, J. K. Rowling, tr. Jean-François Ménard Original title: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone First: why in French? Because it was a gift, and I wouldn't have bought it otherwise. I had been meaning to, but putting it off because I thought it might be boring. I was wrong. Harry has vividly enraptured my mind. I think of him constantly, like when I was addicted to Tetris. Compared to my expectations--that it would be a light read full of childish references--this is a great surprise. Harry has a simple structure, following the classic romantic form, straying rarely from my expectations, but masking its elements sufficiently to create surprise and suspense. For me, classic form is a quality in a book. It's not perfect. When a novel chooses to closely follow a conventional structure, it should take such confidence from that structure that it can make hyper-caricatural experiments and stray wildly before returning at the last minute to familiar resolution. Harry is not as confident as its structure allows it to be, but it does better than a lot of things out there. Da Vinci Code, for example. A word on the French translation: it puts one at an intellectual disadvantage in Potter-society, because it translates the names of certain people and places that take the form of English puns. This is unfortunate, I think, and in some cases avoidable, but French culture has a tendency to appropriate material in this way, and it's part of the grand scheme of French things, so we must accept it.