Townhouse Books

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Gertrude and Claudius: by John Updike

It's the Hamlet pre-story, told mostly from Hamlet's mother's point of view, of her young marriage to a neglectful warrier, birthing "Amleth," many years later indulging in an affair with her passionate brother-in-law, her second marriage after being widowed, etc., taking the reader right to the point when Shakespeare's "Hamlet" picks up and bringing a whole other dimension to characters we knew previously only as wicked. Eminently readable, familiar at times and then not so, the book successfully expands the Hamlet story without feeling like an immature exercise of a writer's-blocked author. Whatever inspired Updike to play with this idea, he pulled it off well. Who knew the story of murderous adultery would be such a joy to read?

And I just liked this bit below--it's King Horvendile speaking of Ophelia

She is not merely shy; she is fey. Her brain holds a crack any ill circumstance might jar agape.



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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Gate to Women's Country / Sheri S. Tepper

In short: a post-apocalypse society of women are trying to rebuild civilization. Tepper is a well-known feminist writer, and she does an interesting thought-experiment in this one. Where is the line, and when do feminist utopias go to far? What happens when feminists become prejudiced in their own right? She's also a good storyteller, so even if the philosophical side of the book isn't your cup of tea, it's worth a read as good speculative fiction.

I'd love to hear what other people think of this book. I first read it a good seven years ago and thought it was really quite interesting. The society is intricate and well-imagined, and the first 100 pages or so just toss you into it without heavy exposition. Which I like. There's a sense of discovery, of secrets being revealed throughout the book.

What I didn't get seven years ago and am getting now is the heavy-handedness of this book. Characters have a tendency of becoming mouthpieces for the author, although this effect is slightly mitigated by the fact that several characters are government / philosophical leaders and it's therefore not entirely out of character for them to wax sociological.

What also struck me the second time through was that the book was less even-handed than I'd remembered. Overall, the radical actions that Women's Country takes are presented as tragic but necessary. Rather than tragic and wrong. And the book's take on homosexuality is just offensive. But I'd love to hear other people's opinions. And if you enjoy this sort of post-post-post-society gender future thing, try Elisabeth Vonarburg's Silent City / Maerlande Chronicles, too.



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Saturday, November 11, 2006

Love and Other Near-Death Experiences: Mil Millington

Some of you may be familiar Mil Millington from his self-titled website or his first book, "Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About." Both are hilarious. This book has some truly funny moments, but also serious questions about the possibilty futility of free will. The narrator, Rob, escapes a tragic accident purely through his own fuckwittedness, as he would say, and is now unable to make any decision because the possible outcome could mean life or death. He spends an hour deciding between coffee or tea, as the extra caffeine in coffee could either make him more alert and thereby avoid an accident, or make him jumpy and cause an accident. As you can imagine, his fiancee, friends, and colleagues are soon sick of him.

Rob embarks on a strange quest, meets up with other people who have very nearly died in accidents that killed other people, and ends up wandering through the woods in Wales wearing only his underwear. The thing that really captured my interest was that each character presents a different POV of how fate, free will, God, and the universe interact in our daily lives.

While reading this book I often thought of our recent discussion of Corey Doctorow's novel. This book has some serious editorial errors that ought to have been corrected before ink hit paper. But I think Millington has something really interesting to say in this book, and the less-than-perfect prose didn't stop him from getting his point across.


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