Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Which of these books is not like the others?

Just cleared some of the excess books off my nightstand.
Oxford Book of English Verse
Between the Woods and the Water, Patrick Leigh Fermor
A Time to Keep Silence, Patrick Leigh Fermor
Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton
The Lighthouse, P.D. James

The Lighthouse was one of the books left in our library by the Dunns, and in a compulsive reading fit I pulled it out of one of the reject boxes. I was wrong. Let me regale you with a few quotes from the cover:
"One of the most compelling books of her remarkable career... A magisterial and subtle exploration of all-too-human emotions." -- The Seattle Times

"James is at the height of her writing powers." -- The Baltimore Sun
Doubtless reviewers of books are confronted with a great deal of dreck, in comparison to which even a well-written phone book has its compensations, but I think that the good critics of the Times and the Sun are stretching it a leetle. If this is the height of James' powers, I'm mightily glad I've never read any of her lesser works. Here, a snippet:
It was only minutes before they were passing over the crinkled blue of the Bristol Channel, and almost at once Combe Island lay beneath them, as unexpectedly as if it had risen from the waves, multicoloured and as sharply defined as a coloured photograph."
Clunk.

This kind of book is why I'm glad I don't read any kind of series in which your recurring characters have to layer their own petty personal drama over the story. James, who always opts for the "telling" side of the "Show, don't tell" proscription, lobs her character and story developments with all the precision of a water balloon thrown by my three-year-old, and with as messy results. Every carefully detailed back story is as multicoloured and as sharply defined as a coloured photograph.

Those who can do, write; those who can't, write genre fiction.

6 comments:

Christy from fountains of home said...

Oh ouch!
I've always found James to be a deft writer, if not perfect. But her grasp of the genre is great. Although The Lighthouse wasn't her best. I think sometimes if you don't like a genre its harder to enjoy a book.
Sorry to hear it though!

beadgirl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
beadgirl said...

That's not fair. There are many genre writers who write beautifully, and plenty of "non-genre" writers (and every writer is working in a genre, just as every person speaks with an accent) who are no good at all.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

I have to chime in with the genre fiction enthusiasts.

The writers in this area may never be celebrated for their prose (although a couple of Romance novelists who should be--and one very obvious head-and-shoulders-above-the-rest Horror writer--just leaped to mind), but they have their own legitimate writing skill. It takes a different kind of creativity to write what is essentially the same story over and over again, making it "new" each time. (Which is not to say, of course, that every genre author who tries also succeeds.)

I like genre fiction (and movies) because formulae fascinate me. So many different variations of the exact same thing! And some writers who can at once stay true to the rigid conventions and send them up in unexpected ways.

Julie D. said...

I never cared for James' mysteries much but her "Children of Men" is wonderful and unique. Give that a try.

Suburbanbanshee said...

Never really a fan of P.D. James, but she was a good writer. The Lighthouse was not all that good, but she went on her last author tours for it, so of course the critics were kind.

And if the critics were reading the book while sailing on the QE2 with James, as my parents did, the critical faculties may have been slightly bent by her personal charisma and the amazingly good food on board. Heck, if I were eating gourmet all day with ocean views, I would probably have kind words for Twilight or The Sword of Shannara.