Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Feminine Middlebrow, City of Bones, Arthur

I have finished two books recently : The Feminine Middlebrow Novel : 1920s 1950s by Nicola Humble, which is a book of literary criticism that takes a look at the kind of books Virago Press and Persephone Books (which I both love) reprint. It was a very good read, ten times better than A Very Great Profession : The Woman's Novel 1914-1939 by Nicola Beauman which read more like a collection of extensive quotes from books with lots of paraphrase. Humble's book was well researched and felt like literary criticism, I needed a sheet of paper with me the whole time as I was jotting down titles of books to check out. She makes it clear that even though some of this literature is indeed conservative, we find many radical elements in it, which is basically what I've been saying for years : I read this type of literature because it sheds some light on women's lives in this period and I'm interested in how they can break free from conventions and find happiness. The author seems to read this type of books for the same reason I do and it was some serious relief to find somebody I could fully agree with. Very very interesting and illuminating in many aspects.

I also read something very different (which I finished only yesterday), City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, which is a YA urban fantasy novel that was published last year. I absolutely never read fantasy. My main concern when it comes to genre literature (science fiction, fantasy, detective novels, etc) is that it will, at some point, fail in the character development department. As a consequence, the major flaw I found in City of Bones didn't came as a surprise : although it's no revolution, it was actually quite well written and fast-paced (you absolutely do not have time to catch your breath, it's action followed by action followed by action) but the characters are shallow and some of them complete stereotypes (the heroine, Clary, is yet another perfect girl). I didn't expect much when I picked it up, anyway. However, I did find some great things in it : I loved her take on religion, it's very much a book of its time and I enjoyed that a great deal. Lots of information about the world she built, too much in my opinion as I couldn't follow it all and it gives you absolutely no time to digest it, but I loved the fact that it's urban, meaning taking place here in Manhattan but in the "underworld" of Manhattan. Clary and Simon have read fantasy books, know as much as we do and then one day this whole world is suddenly true - Simon says it best : when Jace (a Shadowhunter, i.e. someone who hunts demons) appears, it's as if he came straight out of a fantasy novel, in many ways, his meeting Clary was 16 years in the making. We can all relate to that, what if one day you met the heroes and heroines from your favourite books ? It's the very popular dynamic of the boy next door vs "the new dangerous kid" we all know. I also enjoyed that the author made such an extensive use of mythology : all creatures exist in her world, from faeries to werewolves to hybrids, to humans. Some parts felt more like horror than YA fantasy, I saw the author is a great fan of gothic horror and it really shows. Not complaining, it's just not something I'm used to. Although I still thought some parts really rang a bell (Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings and His Dark Materials are used extensively), she made up for it by the richness of the world she describes. I was spoiled as to many revelations and some of them were very cliché - !spoilers! oh dear, "I'm your father", really ? I thought we had all got over that (but one of them was quite brave !spoilers! Clare and Jace's relationship made complete sense to me, how can you possibly talk about incest when two people love each other and haven't even been raised together is beyond me - let them be, let them be happy, and I hope she's making a point she'll develop in another book, although in a YA novel it would surprise me if they give her that much freedom), but the writing was solid. All in all, the author has good ideas, it's very entertaining and the relationships I thought were quite well described and one of them even brave. However, as seems to be the case in most fantasy novels, the same pattern keeps repeating itself (does somebody/something die on every page ? I stopped counting at 15) and the characters made me feel like I'd "been there done that" more than once. I will soon start the sequel (it's a trilogy), City of Ashes as I can't stop reading in the middle of a series, and I have hopes it'll get better. The third book in the saga, City of Glass, will be out in March 2009, although apparently numerous ARC are already circulating.

I finally received my copy of the second season of Arthur (released in the UK, bought on Play), the cartoon based on Marc Brown's books. I'm so excited, it's my very favourite cartoon : the first series was so good and I can't wait to see the episodes again. Both came with a bunch of stickers, and although I'm probably too old to use those, they completely made my day !