Saturday, January 17, 2009

Back to Normal

I can't believe how much I missed this journal. Midterms are over, I'm now on holiday and can finally update it properly.

First of all, I would like to link to this very good post written by Ronni on her journal. I don't have enough knowledge of YA fiction to write something relevant about it as I barely read any but I love her ideas on it and what she says about Twilight reflects my opinion about the series. I don't think I focus on one genre but I understand why she's angry at writers who completely destroy the genre(s) she cherishes when being reactionary and just plain stupid. It really doesn't do any service to YA fiction and it sure isn't a good example of what the genre has to offer. Ronni has read YA and fantasy for quite some time and I trust her completely in her recommendations. You should, too. A short excerpt :

"Twilight is, in its essence, a story about teenage female sexuality, sans sex. (It is, as the author of the article writes, a ‘1000-page treatise on the art of foreplay’.) And yet Meyer’s extreme preachiness - her ‘true love waits’ abstinence-only views, her extreme pro-life didacticism - is not merely wrong, it is dangerous."

In other news, I would like to officially say that I'm over Persephone Books. I have always had my issues with them from day one but I've decided I've read enough to have an idea of what they publish. Greenery Street is just about the silliest book I have ever read and I struggled to finish it. No substance, horrible characters who are nonetheless loved by the author- the very philosophy of Persephone disgusts me to no end. As far as I'm concerned they've reprinted some excellent books but most of what they publish is rubbish and I totally understand why these books were "forgotten". What's the point of bringing them back into print? Greenery Street tells the story of Felicity and Ian who move in a little flat on Greenery Street once they're married. I wanted to slap Felicity so many times in the book I lost count. I've never met a more stupid girl in my life. At some point, she and Ian have an argument about her spending too much money (she buys an expensive dress she knows she can't afford and then at home thinks it's really a horrible dress and doesn't put it on even once) and Ian explains to her that she can't do that or they'll have problems with the bank. Felicity says nothing, doesn't apologize, lies saying she doesn't remember anything, blames money "which spoils everything" (that's right, just talk about light things when you're in a couple and nothing serious, that's always worked) and guilts Ian who doesn't want to make her cry even if she acts like a spoilt child throughout the whole book. I loathe her. Later on in the book, Ian wants to sign a petition that will make life better for them (can't remember what it was about but it wasn't very big) but when Felicity hears that the petition was initiated by one of their socialist neighbours, she convinces Ian that he cannot possibly sign it. Ian doesn't care about the politics behind the petition and wants to sign it anyway because it will change something in his life, but she insists saying that if he doesn't even know what socialism is (she thinks about murder and plans to Kill the Rich, whatever that means), then he can't be one and can't sign a petition initiated by a socialist. They leave it at that, Ian doesn't sign the petition and life goes on in endless descriptions of how "lovely" everything is since they moved in. There's even a story about their owning a child slave, to make it even more appalling.
That added to the racism in many of the books they've reprinted, the so-called "essence of femaleness" supposed to be associated to linens, flowers and pretty things. I can't stand it anymore. Persephone, you and me, we're done.

Luckily enough, I also read some excellent books these past few days. I didn't it do it on purpose but there were all fantasy books. The first one was Mort by Terry Pratchett, which was insane. I chose this one because I read a lot about which Pratchett book one should choose to start with and Death's story arc was the most frequently mentioned, along with the Witches' one. I chose Death's, because I found the concept original and I wasn't disappointed. I read it in one day as I couldn't put it down.
Here's the summary :

Although the scythe isn't pre-eminent among the weapons of war, anyone who has been on the wrong end of, say, a peasants' revolt will know that in skilled hands it is fearsome. For Mort however, it is about to become one of the tools of his trade. From henceforth, Death is no longer going to be the end, merely the means to an end. He has received an offer he can't refuse. As Death's apprentice he'll have free board, use of the company horse and being dead isn't compulsory. It's the dream job until he discovers that it can be a killer on his love life...

It was outstanding, definitely a favourite. This book has everything, it's hilarious and touching at parts - I thought the end was incredibly well-written, and the last few lines were so good. I think I was smiling all the way through my reading, when I wasn't laughing. It makes references to everything and there's always something to laugh at - at some point, Death goes to a bar, gets drunk and talks about his loneliness. There is a passage in particular that I found very good. Mort has to kill a witch called Goodie Hamstring and she knows it and surrenders to her death quite willingly. She seems him coming, greets him, and closes her shop, making sure that everything's in order, they sit down and look at the sky and watch the sand drop in Goodie's hourglass. This is such a poetic moment, and Pratchett manages it beautifully. What I loved most about this book is that it's incredibly compelling and the story really sucks you in, it's an adventure, and yet an adventure that is not without its purpose. It's full of life and humanity.

I found the same qualities in Neil Gaiman's Stardust, and I understand why the two authors wrote a book together. Gaiman's main quality isn't humour but in both Coraline and Stardust I found what I also found in Pratchett, a deep generosity. They are both able to create incredible characters that are excellent because honest and touching. I don't have any other words, both authors in their books seem so human. Does is sound strange because they write fantasy ? I don't think so. At least, it shouldn't. Stardust is clearly a fairytale for adults. Here's the summary :

There is a way into Faerie, beyond the fields we know, and it lies in a village called Wall, somewhere in the early Victorian era. Every nine years there is a fair on the other side of the wall, where Faerie sells its wares to the mundane. Farmer Duncan Thorne had his moment of mad love with a witch's bondservant; Tristan, his son, turned up in a basket nine months later. Now Tristan is old enough to fall in love, and promises Victoria a falling star... This is a fairy story in the tradition of George MacDonald and Hope Mirlees; a book of passion and terror and wit which reminds us that Faerie is not a safe place, or a fair one. And at its edges there lurk other stories--Neil Gaiman's work in comics and television has previously shown his capacity to evoke mystery and glorious magic by telling us just enough and no more, but he excels himself here. Charles Vess's illustrations, (Vess collaborated with Gaiman on key episodes of The Sandman), have charm and occasionally more--the stars dance, Pan looms from the forest, a witch queen rides a chariot driven by goats and Tristan journeys by candlelight leagues at a step.

Let's get this out of the way right now : Gaiman's prose is impeccable. His poetry fits the genre of the fairytale completely. Tristran is one of the best characters I've ever met - he's kind and sensible, although foolish at the beginning, he is very likeable. Violence and sex are introduced alongside unicorns and falling stars. Just like traditional fairytales before they were toned down. Gaiman is very special.
I saw the movie the day after I finished the book and it's one of this rare instances of an adaptation living up to the original source material. It's beautiful and although I saw the differences between the two (the movie is way funnier, the book explores more themes) the spirit remains. The casting is superb and every actor seems dedicated to the project. I was enchanted.

I also read Beauty by Robin McKinley, who seems to be a favourite among fantasy fans. It's a "retelling of Beauty and the Beast" (this is the subtitle). I really liked it, although not as much as the other two. It had some interesting twists (I liked what she did with the Beast's famous library - it contains books that "have yet to be written", Beauty picks up a collection of poems by Robert Browning for example) and the writing style was clear. I need to buy her Damar books, which are very popular.

In other news, I've been obsessed with the Puppini Sisters for quite some time and the obsession grew recently. Their music is great, their clothes are great, and they're witty, sexy, funny. Just look at these lyrics from their original song Jilted, taken from the superb album The Rise and Fall of Ruby Woo :

Hmmm I've been jilted again
He packed his bags and left whistling a happy song
I jumped through hoops to keep that man
Oh how did I get it so wrong?

I tried new positions
I learned his friends names
I made myself sit through football games
Oh, Been jilted
Been jilted again

Please watch the video clip, it's hilarious. I love them, they're incredibly talented. I want them to take over the world. Also, I desperately want to see them perform live.

And two picspams to finish : one of Lorelai Gilmore, my role model (please please watch Gilmore Girls) :


RORY: I printed up some sample invitations for you. I made them on my computer.
RORY: All you have to do is pick out a quote for the front page, and I'll print 'em up.
LORELAI: "We have buried the putrid corpse of liberty." Perfect!
RORY: Mussolini it is.

And one of Rose Dewitt Bukater, for obvious reasons (i.e. Kate, you rock). And this is the time I choose to admit that yes, I love Titanic.


ROSE: I'd rather be his whore than your wife.

Now, will my computer freeze ? Let's find out !