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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Three Capsule Reviews 3 - "Little Stranger, Hand of Isis and Far North" (by Liviu Suciu)

After the first Three Capsule Review post in which I showcased three great novels that missed my full FBC review list more for timing reasons than anything else, I planned to do two more such posts discussing books that I enjoyed a lot but have something that stopped them being great for me. The pure genre books post is HERE, while now I am presenting three mainstream fantastic novels, "The Little Stranger" by Sarah Waters, "Hand of Isis" by Jo Graham and "Far North" by Marcel Theroux.

"The Little Stranger" by Sarah Waters

The author of the superb novel "Fingersmith" turns her hand to the destruction of the
English gentry through debt after WW2. Great literature but very depressing book that left me empty at the end. The main failing of the book was the heavy dependence of its structure on lots of class stuff that meant nothing for me.

All the way throughout the novel I wanted to shake
the two main gentry characters and tell them to sell the manor and get out of there, make a life in the modern world and it boggled my mind they would not. But I did not grew up steeped in that class system so I cannot get it...

This is a novel that needs the reader's empathy for its characters for full enjoyment and it did not get it from me. So a four star though as literature the novel is very well written; but a soulless book is just squiggles on paper however accomplished technically it may be.

Of all the three novels here this one had the greatest potential but it did not quite fulfill it so it was the most disappointing, though still pretty good.


"Hand of Isis" by Jo Graham

After the extraordinary debut "Black Ships" who made my top five mainstream fantastic list for 2008 (FBC Review HERE - though done by Robert who did not like the book as much as I did), I was a bit weary about "Hand of Isis" since I read way too many tales about Cleopatra and her times, which had her a main or a secondary but important character, both fiction and non-fiction.

Overall "Hand of Isis" is a very good retelling of Cleopatra's tale through the narration of her handmaiden Charmion with a twist of the fantastic. The novel featured the same great style as in "Black Ships".

My main problem with the book is that it did not transcend its subject sticking to the "known" story with a modern sensibility and a little bit of the fantastic so it was too "true and tried" for me to give it five stars.

Of the three novels here, this one was exactly what I expected. A more interesting subject for me - not that Cleopatra is not very interesting in general, but it's hard to add to her "canon" for someone who read a lot about her - and it would have been a superb book.


"Far North" by Marcel Theroux

This was my first novel from Marcel Theroux and I liked his style so I would read anything by him that would be interesting for me. However, "Far North" was a bit pointless though it was compelling enough to keep my attention to the end

The narrator, Makepeace is a tough heroine in a hard and nasty post apocalyptic world inhabited by brutal people and in which kindness is paid in blood. Her life takes an even more unpleasant turn when she leaves her home where she was acting as a sort of local constable.

The highlight of the novel was the exploration of a Siberian radioactive city, but where the Strugatsky brothers wrote a masterpiece in a similar context, here the book just misses a great opportunity to transcend its setting.

If you are a fan of post-apocalyptic novels in a broken down society reduced to subsistence levels and scavenging the remains of our current civilization, this novel should be for you since it's well written.

Of all the three books featured here I liked this one the most; it was imaginative and interesting though it could have been much more. This way it remained a pure genre novel - post-apocalyptic literary fiction and that genre is not in my top favorites though I read the occasional book that piques my interest.


Nikki in Niagara said...

I loved "Little Stranger"! - I think that while it is a ghost story, you have to first and foremost be a historical fiction fan. I didn't grow up in that class system but I've read so much about it that I was very comfortable and genuinley intrigued with that aspect of the story.

I also loved "Black Ships" and put it on my top ten list that year and I was dying to read her second book, but I did not like "Hand of Isis". I'll be reading reviews first before I'm so quick to request an ARC of her next book. Far North is on my TBR pile and I'm looking forward to it so I skipped over your review. {sorry}

I'm loving the choice of books your reviewing these days since The Changeover. Keep up the great work!

Liviu said...

Thank you for your kind words;

Little Stranger was very compelling.

I was rooted to the chair until I finished it, but I think that if it were set in the 1920's like say House Riverton also known as Shifting Fog (Kate Morton) which deals to some of the same issues about the decline of the gentry though it's more of a love story/triangle - I would have liked it more. I loved House at Riverton though only so-so on Forgotten Garden (maybe reading them back to back was not advisable)

Regrding Isis it all depends on how you feel about hf with Cleopatra which is a very well known subject though with various interpretations (and Jo Graham treats it faithfully and pro-Cleopatra, touch of the fantastic and all)

The Aeneas story was more mythical and much more compelling in consequence

Next I think it's an Alexander story - these I read a lot too, but they have much greater scope so we'll see

My only rule as usual is to cover what books I love (or thought I would), the one difference now is that I assign a bit different priorities - I read the same books in the past, just that then more "conventional genre" book reviews from me were posted here, while now I tend to go first with the books that impress me the most regardless of genre or type, so as mentioned there will be more sf, hist fiction and weird/unusual fantasy from me...


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