Feisty reading

I have just returned from a week away during which time I had little I had to do and thus much time for reading and other leisurely pursuits. I wanted to reflect on two of the books I read during this time.

Raymond E Feist’s Magician was a revelation to a 14 year old who loved fantasy. Leant it by an adult friend who had brought it back from America, I read it voraciously and loved every bit of it. Since then, the gloss has worn off Feist’s work somewhat. I did love the Empire series and have enjoyed most of his other novels, though not found them quite as magical as Magician. I think there are a couple from the middle period I haven’t actually read – they did blur together a little. Of course, one of the major problems of the subsequent books was that Feist came up against the Superman/Peter Petrelli effect: inventing two heroes in Pug and Tomas who were virtually indestructible – so  powerful they are able to beat off almost any attack (and it now looks like Magnus is going to be ever more so).  Thus, he is forced to create ever more powerful evil oppostion which wreaks destructions on an almost unbelievable scale.

I often wonder why Feist hasn’t just moved on from Midkemia to a new site of fantasy. Does he have so little faith in his fans that they would abandon him if he left Pug out of a story? Interestingly, in recent years two of the books of his I have enjoyed the most have been the most removed from the traditional Midkemian setting – Talon of the Silver Claw and Exile’s Return. In both of these books new characters and new societies took centre stage. In particular, the change in focus in seeing the redemption of Kaspar, the villian of the previous two books, made it rather more interesting than a number of Feist’s novels.

Similarly, the most interesting parts of Into a Dark Realm were about the Dasati. I kind of wished that the book had focused on them and disappointingly when moving into Wrath of a Mad God the Dasati perspective was entirely lost, even though Pug spent almost the entirety of the novel in their realm. Which brings us to the book overall.  The first thing I have to say is that it is rather appalling that, clearly in their rush to get the money-spinning books on the shelves, the publishers have done a shocking job of editing – both Into a Dark Realm and Wrath of a Mad God. Things like finding “Erik” spelt with a “c” and “k” alternately about five times over the course of two pages, and bits of story that suddenly assume knowledge never made explicit (unless I was drunk when I read those bits). I also do rather resent taking up a third of Wrath of a Mad God on a storyline which had virtually nothing to do with the central plot of the book (and the bits that might have been relevant were never explained) and is obviously setting up the next trilogy. Honest Mr Feist and publishers, your readers might have a bit more respect if you didn’t treat us like total dupes. I did still enjoy the book, but I do think the extremeness of the conclusion is pushing the books to such a point that they will run out of places to go, soon.

On the other hand, there was Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love. Definitely a distinct contrast. While for Feist the story is the purpose, with the writing itself just the tool to get there, with McEwan there is much to be said for the writing being an end in itself. The thing I have found most engaging about both Enduring Love and On Chesil Beach is the manner in which McEwan so accurately catches the interior debates and thoughts about they way people act, especially in relationships of love. I find myself identifying so clearly with some of the thought processes the characters undertake before making decisions or saying things, and the manner in which a lack of understanding of the point of view of another can so quickly cause relationships to deteriorate. In Enduring Love there are two scenes I found absolutely striking. The first in when Clarissa comes home from work to be confronted by Joe’s ravings about Parry. The cleverness of the inversion of the point of view, and the capturing of the way one can feel when the hope and expectation of what will greet you when you get home feeling crappy after a terrible day is completely disappointed, allows you to understand why Clarissa may take the point of view she does about Joe and Parry. what is particularly clever is how the book makes you doubt even the narrative you are reading – perhaps Clarissa is right in her opinion. The other scene I found beautiful and clever and compelling is where Joe goes to searh Clarissa’s drawers, and his own recognition of his own performance of searching for the stapler. It so clearly exposes the lies we try to tell ourselves to justify behaviour, and the question of who is he/we trying to convince when we do these things, unwatched.

So while I may not have been completely convinced of the books denoument, and I found the Parry character hard to engage with in any way, the beauty and insight of the writing made me thoroughly enjoy the reading.