Notes on Literature: A Grab Bag of Thoughts!

I have been meaning to post my thoughts on some of my latest and not so latest reads, but have been putting it off for various reasons. So here’s what I intend to do in this post: Provide you with a grab bag of short thoughts on various works (short and long) cobbled together from quick notes made shortly after reading them. Let me hasten to add that these thoughts are likely to be just this side of ephemeral, and I’m collecting them together here because I wish to revisit and expand on them in future posts.

John Crowley’s Little, Big

(This was written down the day after I finished reading Little, Big a few years ago.)

I feel Big. I feel Small. I’ve finished (can one ever finish?) reading John Crowley’s Little, Big. It is said that once the mind expands on encountering a great idea, it never regains its original shape and size; if ever that be true of anything, it is of this extraordinary, monumental novel. As Ursula Le Guin puts it “Persons who enter this book are advised that they will leave it a different size than when they came in.”

Neil Gaiman’s A Study in Emerald

Arguably THE best short Sherlockian pastiche ever dreamt, Neil Gaiman’s A Study in Emerald is a fiendishly multi-layered alternate world! Also a great example of a short story with a twist hidden away in its last couple of lines; in this instance, the second last line: a si…but I shouldn’t say!

Terry Pratchett’s Thief of Time

  • As I turned over the last page of Thief of Time, I realised, again, why, while certainly human, Terry Pratchett is the most humane God of fantasy literature.
  • Can any other sci-fi/fantasy writer pull off set pieces with such convincing assurance and virtuosity? For instance, the couple of China Syndrome-esqe “Procrastinator Hall” (:Time::Control Centre:Nuclear Reactor) sequences in Thief of Time.
  • And–no surprise, it’s a Discworld novel–there are laugh-out-loud funny lines on pretty much every single page. A couple of quotes,

His full name was Jeremy Clockson…

[Miss Susan’s attention] inspected your soul, putting little red circles around the bits it didn’t like.

Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter’s Long Earth

(All of these thoughts were first tweeted. I’m reposting them here from my Twitter page almost verbatim.)

  • 100 pages into Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter’s The Long Earth. Fascinating in its parallels to Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials.
  • 200 pages in. Now fascinated by how different their worlds are! Pratchett and Baxter’s: Ephemeral but humane. Pullman’s: Concrete yet apocalyptic.
  • 35 pages later: A childbirth scene that’s poignant, profound, and funny all at once!
  • 300 pages in. Less ephemeral worlds. Pratchett and Baxter hint at mysteries of profound significance and a looming catastrophe.
  • Also, this charming observation: “…you are not only fluent in English, but also fluent in England, which means a lot down here.”
  • Finished! The source of the looming sense of catastrophe turns out to be a looming…but I shouldn’t say! Surprising, sure, but fits the mythos.
  • In the end, sci-fi equivalents of Pullman-esque multiverse themes and concerns persist.
  • Hard to elaborate without spoiling, but suffice to say that there are, in my opinion, subtle parallels to and reversals of His Dark Materials themes.
  • Also, as The Long Earth closes, the worlds are at the cusp of war, segueing into The Long War. A Pullman-esque war of the worlds?
  • Realised that I wouldn’t be giving away too much by saying one of the big Long Earth reveals is…first person singular!

Margaret Atwood’s In Other Worlds and MaddAddam Trilogy

(Again, mostly from Twitter.)

  • Discovered Margaret Atwood in the pages of her In Other Worlds and went on to read all three of her fantastic MaddAddam books.
  • Atwood’s books are amazing! She brings a unique feminist perspective and razor-sharp insight to sci-fi in In Other Worlds.
  • MaddAddam is a trilogy of novels set in the not so distant future when gene splicing’s matured into a technology.
  • Her layered dystopian chronicle is wickedly funny, moving, and shocking in relentlessly probing the dark and not so dark depths of the human psyche. A great storytelling achievement!

Hope Mirrlees’s Lud-in-the-Mist

(Even as thoughts go, these are pretty incomplete. But I hope they’d prove to be reasonably insightful!)

  • Lud-in-the-Mist has some of the most charmingly named characters in British literature post-Dickens. (Nathaniel Chanticleer, Endymion Leer…)
  • A genre bending fantasy, it is by turns an eerie fairy tale, a ghost story, a murder mystery, and an adventure.
  • Chanticleer = Rooster: We’re in fable territory.
  • However, a few pages into the novel, we discover a subtle current of sinister menace beneath the superficial layers of charm–a discordant note is struck in more ways than one!

Haruki Murakami’s short story Yesterday

(The complete text of the short story is here.)

  • As strangely beautiful as the best of Japanese fiction.
  • The serene (thanks to Pooja for the apt adjective!), melancholy, wistful first person narrative voice is unmistakable.
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