Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Ireland was fantastic! I realize I have become semi-addicted to blogging, however, when it felt slightly strange not to connect with everyone of a morning! Didn't last too long - so much to see and do.

As I mentioned in my last post, I read to the Giri in the car. This is a longstanding tradition in my family as my mother would read to all of us on cross-country trips (actually she read to us every night at home too, so guess where my book addiction stems from?!) I suppose it made sense to transfer the story to the car, and it just never occurred to me as a child that one might not be able to read while moving. It wasn't until I was a teenager that I realized such a thing as car sickness existed. The giri suffers from motion sickness, but all things work out - he drives, I read.

In recent years we've wended our way through (among others) Susan Cooper's THE DARK IS RISING, John Wyndham's THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS, Michelle Magorian's GOODNIGHT MISTER TOM, Alexander McCall Smith's THE NO. 1 LADIES' DETECTIVE AGENCY series (we've read the first four together), J.K. Rowling's HARRY POTTER series (again, the first four), R.K. Narayan's SWAMI AND FRIENDS, John Buchan's THE THIRTY-NINE STEPS, and Tolkien's LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy (actually, the latter was read not only in the car but on transatlantic flights to and from Sydney - don't worry, we had five seats to ourselves, we're not THAT annoying - and finally made it into bedtime reading at home, because it was so exciting!).

Most recently we've completed the Philip Pullman HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy, and Ann over at Patternings asks what I thought, so here goes. I recommend them, with reservations. Firstly, they are not (in my opinion) children's books, which is how they were originally packaged - teen yes, adult yes, but not children. Pullman writes well and convincingly of worlds alongside worlds - the multiverses so much under discussion in the world of physics these days. In the real world some scientists argue for the existence of multiverses with fractional differences. Could the big bang have been caused by some of these worlds crashing together accidentally? Very interesting concepts, and which most of us spend very little time thinking about. What Pullman has done is take this concept of multiverses as a given and convincingly described and explored them. What if just through this gap there is another world, almost exactly the same as yours - similar streets and names and people, even graffitti, but it is not the same...

The first in the trilogy, NORTHERN LIGHTS (published in the USA with the title THE GOLDEN COMPASS; I'm never sure why they do this changing titles thing), is a triumph. Exciting, well-written, with a fantastic young female protagonist. Lyra is both vulnerable and hard as nails. In her world every person has a visible daemon (pronounced "demon") in animal form. They are deeply personal and cannot be seperated from the human to whom they belong (being essentially souls). Lyra uncovers a dastardly plot to sever children from their demons to produce...what? I won't spoil the plot for you, but suffice to say this book has a real corker of a cliff-hanger ending. If I'd read the books as they were written, I'd have been huffing and puffing until the next in the series came out, instead I just went roaring out to the shops!

The second in the trilogy, THE SUBTLE KNIFE, really develops the multiverse concept. Will, who lives in a parallel Oxford to Lyra's Oxford (like our world - no visible daemons), flees in panic and accidentally makes his way through a rip between worlds, where he meets Lyra. My favourite character, a vast armourplated bear king, features in this book too, along with witches, angels, God, and all manner of strange and entirely believable creatures. I liked this book, especially the concepts explored which held the warp and weave of the story together.

Unfortunately, I do feel Pullman goes off the rails a bit by the last book, THE AMBER SPYGLASS. It feels a little bit like being repeatedly thumped over the head by a heavy Bible - except that it is not the Bible, but Pullman, attempting to argue what a waste of time Christianity is. I have no problem at all with him challenging religion, religious practice and blind faith, but what emerges is a stereotypical bashing, rather simplified in argument. I would have loved a nuanced attack! Instead, where the other two books in the series were driven by the story (and what a wonderful story!), the third falls somewhat flat because the story takes a backseat to Pullman trying to MAKE.BASH.HIS.BASH.POINT.BASH. Such a shame.

Despite my criticisms, do read these if you haven't already. A word of caution - you must read them in the correct order for the story to make sense. NORTHERN LIGHTS/THE GOLDEN COMPASS is wonderful. And even in the last book, the world/s which Pullman creates are fantastic and consistently believable - worth reading for that alone. And you never know, you may adore all three titles, the great thing about reading being how different all our tastes are. For those of you who have already read these, what were your reactions?

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Blogger Dorothy W. said...

I loved all three of them; I'll read them again some day and see what I think then -- the first time through I was so enthralled with the story, I didn't get bothered by the point-making in the last volume. I know what you are talking about there though; my reaction was delight in the ideas and story so it didn't bother me.

1:36 pm  
Anonymous Paul said...

How does one become "semi-addicted" to blogging? I am curious. :)

3:19 pm  
Anonymous James said...

I sort of agree about books 1 & 2 of HDM - but I think the series and Pullman are rather overrated. Pullman and his writing are the perfect pair for the British market though, which likes to latch onto something a bit readable, a bit dumb, and a bit nasty - e.g. Harry Potter, or Zadie Smith.

Sorry - had to say that. I expect nobody agrees with me.

The balloon chase / shamanic journey scene in TSK was quite brilliant. The rest was much as you described it - starting with a vivid and imaginative flourish, and then sort of sinking into a bitter and ineffective diatribe about the church and Pullman's (over anxious) perception of it as an historical authority.

3:25 pm  
Anonymous Maxine said...

I have bookmarked your post but not yet read it as I am currently mid-way through HDM and don't want to know anything yet until I have finished it! I may be some time as I promised Jenny I'd read it when she did -- she's on book 3 and I have nearly finished book 2, so I need to wait until she has finished book 3 before I can start it. And I think she is somewhat running out of steam on it, though she is only 100 pages off the end.

Glad you enjoyed your holiday. I can't read in cars either. I don't usually like listening to audiobooks but the Harry Potters read by Stephen Fry are a brilliant exception in my experience.

4:01 pm  
Blogger Lotus Reads said...

I think it's great that you read on long car drives - I've never thought of doing that before. I do read the odd article from a magazine etc. but I've never actually thought of reading out loud to hubby and the kids - it's a great way to pass time and get some reading done!

I bought RK Narayan's "Swami and Friends" on a recent trip to India. Reminds me of the "William" books I read as a child!

I've never read Pullman's "Dark Materials" but your observations/impressions make me want to, thanks! The Native Americans believe we each have an animal guide walking, one to our left, the other to our right. When I did a Shaman reading one time, they told me I had a tiger to my right - wish I could remember what the other one was...

12:23 pm  
Anonymous danielle said...

I want to read the Pullman books next year and have already mooched the first book in the series as I am very curious about them. Lucky you to have just gone to Ireland!!

2:53 am  
Blogger equiano said...

Dorothy - I had already read them on my own and so reading them out loud was both slower (which gave me time to think) and a second read, so perhaps that made me more critical? Still love the first one though.

Paul, welcome! Okay, okay, one is either addicted or not! I guess I meant that I've found myself perhaps just a weensy bit too attached to spending time on the net. Time to balance it a little better...

James - ouch to the comment on "bit readable, bit dumb, bit nasty" although trying to be clever in a slightly mean way does come to mind when I think of some British writers and commentators, but then lots of writers here are also very self-deprecating. I really didn't get on with Zadie Smith's ON BEAUTY.

Maxine - I haven't heard Fry's recordings but am a fan of his in general - such a clever man! Look forward to hearing your thoughts (and Jenny's) once you're done with the Pullman's.

Lotus Reads - reading in cars is also a good bonding strategy. On really long trips you can choose a "family read" or read chapters from each person's book currently on the go; lots of permutations. Thanks for the Native American story - what a wonderful image!

Danielle - read up, and keep us posted! I look forward to hearing what you think.

10:09 am  
Anonymous Paul said...

I have never read, while riding, on a road trip, but it is a good idaea. Try "Slow Man" by J.M. Coetzee.

1:58 pm  
Blogger equiano said...

Thanks Paul, SLOW MAN is one I have yet to read, but in general I do like Coetzee - so spare in his writing style; a wonderful writer with a rare ability to make you like (or at least feel sympathy for) characters that just aren't very nice.

9:52 am  

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