Sunday, July 6, 2008

I'm 474 pages into the very worst sort of book

I should have known better because one of the most prominent plugs on the cover is, "RAVISHING. . . Combines the dark mythology of fantasy with the delicious social comedy of Jane Austen into A MASTERPIECE OF THE GENRE THAT RIVALS TOLKIEN." - Time.

Now I ask you, Is there are single American male who has ever read all the way through one of Jane Austen's "delicious social comedy(s)"?

I have only myself to blame. I could easily have read the cover and the first and last pages and then done a quick riffle skim of the middle pages to get a reasonably coherent sense of the thing. Then I could have blandly claimed to have read it if my son who recommended the book ever asked about it. That tactic got me all the way through high school and college under evaluation by teachers who were mostly old and wise in the ways of student fraud, so it would have probably served me excellently with a 25 year old who's far less cynical than those teachers. Why I even got an A+ once for filling an entire blue book with analysis of a book I had forgotten to open by the tactic of using the test question and pure assumptions, incorrect assumptions as it turned out, as my take off point. I've always wondered if the professor was being merely straightforward when he penned his little "excellent irony" note next to the A+, or if he was himself being ironic. This was, after all at Illinois Tech where the unfortunate prof was no doubt regretting that his PhD had landed him in a school inhabited by American techies who predominantly communicated in grunts, and foreign techies whose interest in English usage mostly ended at resume writing skills. But I digress. . .

The book is "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell," and it's just good enough to save itself from being put into the "I'll finish this some other time" pile, but it's just bad enough to make each page a chore. A bad book makes itself very easy to put it down, a good book makes itself easy and enjoyable to read, a very good book makes itself impossible to put down until finished - no matter how bad the eyes droop. This book is squarely in the middle. It's written excellently, if ponderously, just like Jane Austen's pretentious and over-analytical swill. And it's plot is somewhat interesting, just like Tolkien's preposterously over-long elf and orc sagas. But it lacks the mayhem of Tolkien and even the faeries are all too English. And. . . and I'm not reading it at 15 years old as I read Tolkien in one great spasm, all the way through the three ring novels and well into "The Hobbit" which I thankfully put down before terminal saturation with Tolkien's prose drove me to suicide.

Anyway I'm 474 pages into this thing and I just checked the last page and found it to be numbered 1006. I also discovered that the main characters still seem to be alive and just as Austenishly obsessed with themselves in the few pages leading up to the end.

Why did Susanna Clark end at 1006? She seems to be relating the entire history and sociology of England up to 1816 via allusion and symbolism and she's shameless about writing empty pages. So why didn't she tack on another 60 pages so as to make the book a very symbolic 1066 pages long?

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