Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Three Novels I've read recently

Here are three novels I've read in the last couple of months. They are pretty much the only thing I've read completely as I've been busy with work and haven't had a lot of time or energy for other reading.

1.) Johnathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke--This is a huge novel, clocking in at around 700 pages, but truly wonderful. Imagine if Jane Austen had written a novel about magic and magicians, and that provides a crude idea of where to begin thinking of this novel. It takes place in a 19th century Britain that is populated by magicians and that has a long history of magic. It is wonderfully written, witty, funny, filled with all sorts of interesting side stories to the main story, and utterly captivating. It is also a story about the power of reputation, tradition, and history, and the way that different people respond to these things. It has a strong moral element too, in that most of the characters meet fates which are well suited to their character traits. Highly recommended.

2.) The Taking by Dean Koontz--About 13 years ago I got really into Koontz after reading a copy of "Watchers" that my then roommate had laying around the room. I read more of his books than I can remember, enjoying most of them, but getting bored with him around the time "Winter Moon" came out. I don't recall reading anything by him since then until seeing this at Borders and getting interested in it after reading some reviewer's comments that said it was somewhat biblical in scope and content. It is essentially Koontz's take on the apocalypse/judgment day and doesn't stray too far from overall typical Koontz territory in terms of plotting, characters, situations, etc. The California Literary Review calls this book a masterpiece on par with "Fahrenheit 451" and "1984." I wouldn't go that far, but the more I read, the more I had to admit that Koontz is a pretty good writer who seems to have an almost boundless ability to ingest all sorts of literary influences and use them to dream up utterly strange and creepy scenarios and creatures. This is also a strongly moral novel, where the characters all meet fates which are dictated by the sorts of people they've been in life. I don't buy the theological/eschatological theory behind it, though it does make an interesting piece of speculative sci-fi.

3.) Night Relics by James P. Blaylock--Blaylock is a great writer who has the ability to bring out the odd and otherwordly in the everyday, and who uses the fantastic to evoke a sense of time, place, nostalgia, and memory. This novel focuses more on the second of these two things, using a ghost story to examine human character and relationships, and to look at the way in which the past influences the present. Blaylock is adept at drawing complex, believable, genuinely human, flawed characters and then letting them follow their own course, reaping the fruits of their choices and actions. He also knows how to extend grace to his characters, which opens up the possibility of redemption and averts the despair of absolute moral predestination. This book does both of these things excellently. It is also worth noting that Blaylock, though not a professing Christian, is influenced by the biblical tradition and considers it an important part of the Western cultural legacy. This comes through in the strong moral themes in a lot of his work, the sympathetic portrayal of religious figures in a number of his stories, and in his understanding of the possibility for redemption of flawed human beings. Highly recommended.

I'm currently reading "All The Bells on Earth," another James Blaylock novel. I'll post on that one when I'm done with it.

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