Nut Ink. Mini reviews of texts old and new. No fuss. No plot spoilers. No adverts. Occasional competency.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Stepford Wives (1972)

Author: Ira Levin  |  Page Count: 139

It’s not a town where reactions can develop to anything.  There’s no place where people really intersect, except the Men’s Association.”

Joanna Eberhart is a wife and mother; she’s a photographer, an observer of life; and she’s a feminist. When she moves with her husband and two children to the seemingly utopian town of Stepford, the male-centric activities of the Men’s Association really get her goat. What’s worse is that the women, the other wives, are like picture book clichés, prime candidates for the Cult of Domesticity annual calendar, with perfect smiles and perfect tits. Joanna tries to initiate change but meets opposition; she then decides to make everyone else's business her own.

I didn't much like The Stepford Wives.  I found it tedious and lacking drive.  It didn't get even vaguely interesting until after page 100, and there are only 139 pages in the entire book.  But it wasn't badly written.  It wasn't wasteful.  It was just dull.

It works perfectly as a satire of deeper concerns, a focus upon which was much more politically stirring in the 70s when it was written, but as an enjoyable novel not so much. The term ‘Stepford Wife’ has entered the vernacular of popular culture, so I'm going to assume most of you will be able to garner what those concerns are. That knowledge may have been part of my problem: knowing in advance what the big twist was left me with nothing to get excited about.

Joanna and Walter exist separately most of the time, so we never really get an in-depth view of how loving their relationship is or isn't. He supports her, they sleep together and they appear to share some beliefs, but there was no evidence of love or even desire for each other in their daily lives. They were flat, lifeless characters, which left me indifferent to their individual plights.

I'm one of those people whose inner-voice emphasises italics whilst reading because that’s what they’re there to denote, an emphasis, but they were so abundant that doing so got to be a real pain. If you do the same thing with this sentence, you’ll understand perhaps what I mean when I say italics should be used in moderation. Now, wasn't that a pain in the ass?!

I acknowledge that it’s achieved ‘classic’ status, but there’s no right or wrong where subjectivity is concerned, and we don’t all like the same things.

2½ notes on newcomers out of 5

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Night Watch (1998)

Author: Sergei Lukyanenko  |  Translator: Andrew Bromfield  |  Page Count: 489

'Many years ago someone told me something that I flatly refused to accept.  And I still don't accept it now, despite all the times I've seen it proved right.'

Night Watch are the good guys; up to a point.  They have their own agenda, like any organisation, but on a day-to-day basis they’re responsible for policing the actions of their opposites, the Dark Others.  The Dark ones draw their power from the negative feelings of mankind; some even feed on mankind itself, but that requires special dispensation.  Balance is all important.  If the evil should outweigh the good, the world is screwed.  If the good should outweigh the evil, the world is screwed from the other side.  But knowing that doesn't stop either side from trying to achieve dominance.  Among the casualties will be us, the humans.

Both the Light and Dark Others, irrespective of rank, have access to a deeper level of reality known as the Twilight, a place that exists beneath the fragile top skin of our own world.  The Twilight has many uses but equally as many dangers.  It's not a place for sparkly vampires who like to sniff girls.

Much like the Twilight, the events in the novel take place on a number of layers: there’s the familiar world we know; the unfamiliar world of the Watches; and the fantastical world that we can imagine exists all around us, separate from but wholly dependent on the other two for its contrasts and sense of magical realism.

Anton Gorodetsky exists in all three of those worlds; he's our guide.  Anton is a Light Other, relatively new to field work.  He patrols the night, hoping to catch the Dark ones doing something they ought not be doing so that he, and his organisation by extension, can gain an advantage in the inevitable war.  He knows that even little things, if left unchecked, can develop into catastrophic things.

The urge to read faster almost overwhelmed me as I neared the end of the novel, as the layering increased even more, but I knew I had to keep pace or risk overlooking something crucial.  Only the best stories have that quality.

4½ divergences in the probability field out of 5

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Girl with All the Gifts (2014)

Author: M.R. Carey  |  Page Count: 460

'…[S]ome things become true simply by being spoken. When she said to the little girl "I'm here for you", the architecture of her mind, her definition of herself, shifted and reconfigured around that statement.'

The only thing I knew about the book before picking it up was that the author, M.R. Carey, was a pen name of Mike Carey, and seeing as how I'm a huge fan of Carey's work in comics I bought it. I didn't even read the blurb on the back, not that it would have helped any. In truth, if I'd known what genre the novel fell into, then I'd probably have placed it back on the shelf. But then I'd have missed out on solid worldbuilding and characters that had more to say than it seemed at first.

The post-apocalyptic setting isn't very original and many of the events will be recognisable to fans of that kind of cinema, but woven within the familiar encounters are some thoroughly engaging stand-off and bonding moments.

The narrative voice is present tense, split between that of a young girl, Melanie, and a small number of very different adults. Melanie's education is limited, for reasons I won't divulge, but she's intelligent with well-developed cognitive abilities, so her responses and judgements aren't typically childish. Furthermore, there's both a sympathetic, fragile tenderness and a contrasting savage darkness lingering at the edge of each of them. What that means for the reader is that even mundane events take on a special kind of observational critique.

In many ways it's a road movie (okay, road book) in which the road is fraught with danger and overrun with visible reminders of why each character is wired the way they are. It forces us to ask if they would be much different if the circumstances weren't so grave. Also, for a child, trust and love are connected, two halves of the same treasure, is that something we outgrow as adults, or does it just become greyer, more complex? Those questions, and more, linger after each encounter and are the meat of what kept me page-turning into the small hours.

3½ partially normalised social contexts out of 5