Sunday, June 27, 2010

Abandoned City ... and City

What are you guys reading?  Any good?

It's been a while since I asked the question.

I'm feeling a bit sad that the new novel by China Mieville The City and The City - did not at all agree with me and has given me literary indigestion.  It was so hyped, has won sci-fi awards and is expected to win more, and I wasin the mood for fiction that breaks the mold.  So I thought I was onto a sure thing. (Perhaps I would like other novels by this same author?).

I'm not giving anything more away about the plot than that it's a detective novels played out in parallel dimensions.  I must confess to struggling to a third of the way through before I realised that I just wasn't enjoying it and decided to ditch it ... though I did a naughty and skipped to the end to see what happened in the end.

I did feel the central premise of the novel (the two cities idea) was fascinating, and I felt the rather atmosphere was well created (in some ways the novel reminds me of Orhan Pamuk's Snow) but I'm not big on allegorical fables a la Borges and Kafka. You tend to get the idea quickly enough but have just too many pages of tedium to troll through.  And oh man, this book is bloody boring and over 300 pages!

Then there's a Dan Brown level of character development which leaves you just not caring about whether the murder gets solved or about what happens to dear Inspector Borlu.  This is something so basic - fiction doesn't work if we don't care for the characters!

But worst of all is the appauling editing ... or rather lack thereof.  One commentator on Amazon suggested that perhaps the wrong copy of the manuscript got sent to the publishers and I can well believe it.  There are sentences that make no sense whatsoever! Other parts are so clunky that I did wonder if Mieville intended the language to imitate a foreign speaker who can't handle English too well. I sat on the plane down to Singapore today and marked 'em with a green pen.  (Maybe I'm getting in the mood for my advanced Copy Editing Workshop tomorrow?)

Spot what's wrong here, for e.g. :
Corwi drove - she made no effort to disguise her uniform, despite that we had an unmarked car -

Anyway, had the book been better I would have been happily still engrossed in it, instead of talking to you.  So maybe a little boredom occasionally is good for one?

And now over to you.


mylocalscope said...

Hi Sharon, i've just read Overheard in a Dream by Torey Hayden,psychologically fascinating but there was this story inside the story part which I really skipped as the story was interesting enough already without the 'sub-story'-wud avoid that style if I were to write one on my own. The best one recently read was Angela Ashes, made me feel born again with better appreciation of life. Thanks Sharon.

Marisa said...

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby. Funny, insightful. Also Amir Muhammad's Rojak. Ditto. :)

lyana said...

Hi Sharon,
My recent read was Hector and the Search for Happiness by Francois Lelord. Essentially a self-help book on one's journey to find happiness written in a quirky, nonsensical way reminiscent of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery. It was originally written in French and translated to English.

It tells the story of Hector, a psychiatrist who was dissatisfied with himself that he can't help his patients to be happy. Furthermore, he finds that his patients were unhappy for no apparent reason. Thus, he embarked on a working-holiday to try and find out whether there is a guide to achieve happiness; and through this journey he was able to analyse and observe what makes people (and himself) happy and unhappy.

It's a good read for those looking for a short book to 'lift the soul', so to speak. (:

Thanks for asking us about our literary indulgence!

p/s: re mylocalspace- Angela's Ashes is McCourt's finest, to me. (:

Jordan said...

What better book than Snow to bring up when describing a long, boring novel? I still wish I could get those hours back.

I'm currently reading Brooklyn by Colm Toibin and quite enjoying it.

Zed Adam said...

I can't spot what's wrong there, haha. Enlighten us, Sharon. Is he saying that driving an unmarked car is illegal but the driver made no effort to disguise herself so as not to get caught or something?

Btw, I'm reading How Not To Write A Novel by Sandra Newman & Howard Mittelmark. Useful quick tips on writing, made me think twice about my approach and presentation.

bibliobibuli said...

Zed - i'll leave you in suspense just a bit longer ... see if anyone else can fathom it

Oxymoron said...

Reading "Art Explained: The World's Greatest Paintings Explored and Explained (Annotated Guides)" by Robert Cumming.

Awesome! :)

karcy said...

Reading Doris Lessing's The Sweetest Thing. It's a good book, and I'm glad I read it.

Sadly, no major disappointments lately. (Perhaps that's a good thing?)

Frank, Wong said...

I bought the book from and only managed to read through a couple of pages before reaching for another book... I don't know if I would be enjoying the book in the future, and maybe I simply didn't dig deep enough to get into the plot and narration style. But I did have a bit of problem with the work's language. Given a chance, I would still give the book a try in the future. Many years ago, I didn't get into Burgess's "A Clockwork Orange" too! But thoroughly enjoyed it the last time I retried reading it. How many pages have you gone through (The City and the City) before giving up?

mnoeth said...

I’m about 3/4 into “A Children’s Book” by A. S. Byatt. Sophisticated writing and fantastic societal/cultural commentary.

Chet said...

"... despite that we had an unmarked car"

Should be "despite the fact that we had an unmarked car", or "although we had an unmarked car", or "even though we had an unmarked car"


bibliobibuli said...

Frank ... first 100 pages (so roughly a third) and last two chapters. Your difficulty in reading is a problem with bad writing, so don't blame yourself.

Chet - go to top of class. "despite" must be followed by noun phrase. in this case "although" is a better option.

Zed - How Not to Write a Novel is fun, isn't it? Enjoyed that one.

Thanks so much all of you for sharing your reads, and I'm tempted by some of them (nearly bought The Children's Book the other day and perhaps now will.)

Zed Adam said...

Ah, I see. Yeah, "although" is a better option. But I think I prefer the casualness of the original line if they stick with "despite". I feel like if you add "the fact", it becomes somewhat "bookish" and too formal. Isn't narration, after all, spoken by a narrator/storyteller or a character? I mean when we speak, we don't speak like a textbook, and I always feel that a writer is merely transcribing whatever some narrator or character is telling. What's your opinion on this, commenters?

And yeah, I loved 'How Not To Write'! Makes learning so much fun and memorable.

bibliobibuli said...

As it is, it is jarringly ungrammatical, Zed. "despite" is not more casual, but "though" would be ok if you wanted to go down the formality stakes.

Ted Mahsun said...

I rather liked City and the City actually! I liked the idea of having two cities built and grown on top and in between of each other, but I guess one reads Mieville for his ideas rather than his prose?

bibliobibuli said...

Yeah, Eeleen Lee also told me she disagrees with me and finds this a very good book. Just it did not suit this picky reader.