Sunday, April 4, 2010

"Love is happiness, but only when you believe it will last for ever."

My first book review.

How neat.

No, honestly. I love discussing books--and movies, and tv shows and anything where I can spout my mouth off on what I think. My only problem is 99% of the people I know either don’t read the same books I do, or do and dislike talking about them. I’m looking at you, M.

This is perfectly fine, so I thought I’d review books on my own (this way I don’t need to actually listen to anyone else’s (lame) opinions. I kid, love you). A chance to wax poetic on my own opinions of other people’s literary proses. These aren’t meant to be life changing or anything beyond my own thoughts. I read other people’s reviews out there, most of the time it seems that I agree wholeheartedly with people who can put words together better than myself. So, all I can offer you is my opinion. Somewhat short, not always sweet but my own. And isn’t that all a vanity project like this should be?

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger.

It was kind of inevitable that with such a grand debut as the Time Traveler’s Wife, Niffenegger would have quite a dilemma on her hands. Best sellers, I’d imagine, having never and probably will never written one myself, are a bit of a double edged sword.

Yes, thousands, if not millions of people would pick up this book simply because it had the words “from the author of Time Traveler’s Wife” on it. I also believe she’d get a sizable advance on another book so she’d have some time to churn out another hit. However, as the makers of the adaption of the movie should have found out, it’s hard to re-create that type of magic and wonder of the first book.

I imagine that this book would have been better received if it was perhaps not her follow up to Time Traveler’s Wife. (I’m seriously stopping with the comparison, if only cause I’m sick of writing out the title every five seconds).

Her Fearful Symmetry is a story of two twins Valentina and Julia who inherit their aunt’s flat in London, England after she passes away from a terminal disease. They are given all of her estate on the condition that their parents never step into the flat and that they live there for one year. There, they meet her quirky neighbors, one who happens to be her much younger lover and the other a man suffering from OCD and a failing marriage. Cue the shenanigans.

Only not.

While it’s typically (I only say typically because there has never been any doubt that Niffenegger has a gorgeous way with words) written very well, with style that immerses you completely in a realistic world, the story falls a little flat.

The characters are wonderfully complex (as they were in her previous book) and the story has the same slow unfolding that reminds me of her previous work, which if anything added great detail and added a touch of the ordinary to her work--something that I think benefited Time Traveler's Wife (damnit, typed it out again) as it was never meant to be a grand romance of corsets and knights, but an every day love, which is all the more romantic. However, while the characters of Her Fearful Symmetry are all described to great detail---there isn’t exactly anything that makes me /want/ to like them.

It was difficult to care what happened to any of the characters as few had redeemable qualities and while I will admit that I don't want any of my characters to be a perfect Mary Sue, a characters definitely needs flaws, they also need humanity and understanding behind their actions and perhaps a little pity or compassion in order for the reader to be attached/want to see what happens next.

While the way of words that Niffenegger is able to bring to such a long unfolding story managed to get me to stick through the whole book (that and the $30 or so I spent on the hardcover), I found it difficult to care what happened next and as the second half of the book came, I more or less wanted to finish it for the sake of finishing it. That and a hope that all this build up would result in some sort of “oh snap” moment.

And yes, she did deliver an "oh snap" moment.

Only that moment was a little lackluster.

Which I suppose is a great metaphor for the book. There was all this build up to a secret involving the twin’s aunt and mother (who happen to also be twins) and once I got to that point it turned into a “oh, that’s it?”

After finishing it, I scoured the interwebs trying to find a deeper meaning, especially after a bit of an odd ending (it just ended. Without any wrap up or anything really). Something I may have been too dumb to figure out. However, it seems that the interwebs agree with me. The whole book, well written very well, isn’t any match to her debut.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I adore her style and will most likely pick up her next book--however maybe I will just wait for the paperback version.

Niffenegger may always live in the shadow of her first book and despite however much this book may put doubts in our minds, she’s not jumped the shark just yet.

Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko

It’s interesting that these two books got paired up for my reviews as both have the same overarching theme of not living up the expectations of the debut.

While Her Fearful Symmetry could not live up the expectations of Time Traveler’s Wife, The Night Watch’s overall book could not live up to the first third of the book titled Destiny.

The Night Watch is a fantasy book set in relatively present day Russia about two sides, the Light and the Night Watches who basically attempt to keep the world at a constant state of neutral. The book is divided into three shorter stories titled Destiny, Among his Own Kind, and All for my Own Kind respectively.

Each of the stories follows the main character, Anton a member of the Night Watch who is a Light Magician and therefore serves the side of “good.” Well, at least that’s how it comes across in the first portion of the book.

One of the best things that The Night Watch portrays is the idea that light and dark, good and evil are not necessarily opposites but just different points of a spectrum. A good example of this is The Light Watch is self serving, while the Night Watch serves others, even if this is to sacrifice humans in the process for the 'greater good'.

Now, yes. I realize that this is not exactly a novel idea. However, the world, the characters and the writing--despite being a translation, make the story unique of its own accord.

Throughout the whole book there is an idea of the cold war, two sides pitted against each other but each fearful of breaking the silence. This world that Lukyanenko has created is based on a series of checks and balances. Each simple infraction that is done by one side, allows the other side to create the same infraction--at the same degree.

Now while this creates a gorgeously set world with a varied cast of characters, the only problem is that it doesn’t live up to the tightly wound story of Destiny. Lukyanenko managed to literally throw you into another world without much explanation and expected you to keep up as hints were distributed in the following chapters. Not only was this refreshing, albeit a very confusing start, it kept the reader on edge and the first story managed to keep the events short, sweet and at a decent pace.

I was actually quite shocked at how well the first story wrapped up as I wasn't aware this was a three part epic going into the story. All I knew was that when I sat down in the library, I was so absorbed in the first few chapters that I almost missed checking out. That is a great benefit to Lukyanenko's way with words and his ability to carve out a story with it's own history, it's own rules and it's own quirks.

Unfortunately this seemed to dissolve in stories two and three where Lukyanenko seemed to get too involved in his own opinions of light and dark, of the balance of the two and the idea that perhaps serving oneself before others. While this was great for even the second story as your feet get pulled out from under you by the end with it's own interesting twist, but by the third I just wanted to scream "I get it, lets move on."

I understand that this was the underlying message of the book, but it was tied too much around a false love story that seemed thrown together out of convenience than out of anything else. Being told these people love each other isn’t the same as telling us how or why they do, or letting the characters fall in love naturally. This then creates a problem in which you care less and less about the final outcome, especially when it greatly affects the characters and this build up of a love that you're suppose to be fighting for.

Although, on second reflection it could just be the fact that one of the two characters that fall in love just doesn’t have the personality or character development needed to care what happens to her.

Either way, despite a rather confusing and thrown together ending, the book is well written and I will definitely be picking up the second in the series--although probably not at the same “gotta have it” race that I felt once I had completed the first story.

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