This week’s reading - notice that I am finally caught up!
The Seduction of Common Sense, Kevin K. Kumashiro
Eifelheim, Michael Flynn
The Merlin Conspiracy, Diana Wynne Jones
Portrait of a Marriage, Pearl S. Buck
The Mission Song, John LeCarre
Garnethill, Denise Mina
Exile, Denise Mina
Resolution, Denise Mina
What if first contact had already happened? In a tiny medieval German town? And no one knew about it for some very good reasons? That’s the premise of Eifelheim, and it’s a rocking one. Add amazing historical research, a wonderful sense of setting in time and place, some tragic miscommunication with aliens, and a whole lot of religion, and you’ve got a recipe for a winner. It’s Michael Flynn’s best book to date by far, and the best sci-fi book dealing with religion since The Sparrow. Go and read this right now. Seriously. You are missing out.
Denise Mina has been my consolation that Eifelheim is over. These are wonderfully dark, gritty mysteries where the protagonist is seriously messed up. She’s an incest survivor and budding alcoholic who’s only recently been released from an institution - and yet you never get the sense that Mina is talking down to her or patronizing her, even as many of Mina’s characters do. Maureen O’Donnell doesn’t go out and solve crimes; she just lives in a world full of people doing violence, of one sort or another, to each other every day. She does what she has to do to survive. The books only get better as the series goes on - and although I often don’t find Maureen likable, she’s a compelling character that I couldn’t wait to find out more about.
On the other side of the spectrum, Portrait of a Marriage was some awful, awful claptrap. Here, let me summarize the book for you. “He was a wealthy artist. She was a farmer’s beautiful daughter. He needed her presence to work. She cooked and cleaned and ran the farm, because he was married to ART and not just to her. Oh, wasn’t it romantic that he left his life of wealth and leisure, and ended up as a second-rate artist. What a sacrifice he made. Oh, his manly beauty. Oh, her earthy sensuality. Oh, their long and loving marriage.” I really wanted to kick someone in the nuts.
Also, I keep feeling like I ought to like Diana Wynne Jones, but I just … don’t. The Merlin Conspiracy was better than most of the other Jones I’ve read; I loved the world of Blest and the traveling Court, and I liked a lot of the individual characters. But when it comes down to it, I often feel shortchanged by the way her books end, in a welter of too-rapid resolutions and references to throwaway elements mentioned earlier. Which is sad, because given how often she uses time travel, she ought to be one of my favorites.
Shabbat Shalom, folks! Happy reading, and I’ll see you next week!