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Sunday, April 01, 2007

The longest poem in the world

Someone over at My Writer's Circle had a brilliant idea: why not get all the poets on MWC to collaborate in writing the longest poem in the English language? Its a sort of poet's journal of thoughts and events as they unfold each day, but each one has to link to the one before it. If you want to watch it unfold, go to: http://www.mywriterscircle.com/index.php?topic=8437 where it is all taking shape.

If you want to contribute then you will need to join MWC (it's free) otherwise you can just browse.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Time Traveler's Wife

I have just finished reading "The Time Traveler's Wife" by Audrey Niffenegger. I come away from this book with mixed feelings.

On the one hand, the whole premise of the book is quite illogical. Henry has a genetic disorder which predisposes him to travel in time; unexpectedly and at the most inconvenient moments. If it isn't sufficiently bizarre that time travel is seen as a genetic disorder, Henry's genes seem capable of traveling and interacting with his own genes in another time - Henry as a man meets Henry as a boy and tells him things he will need to know. On this level, the book is rather silly and puerile.

While the time traveling Henry is indispensable to the story, the nub of the book is the relationship Henry has with Clare, his wife. In a silly way, Henry might have been a pink hippopotamus and the book could then have been written around his relationship with Clare. Silly, but hardly any sillier that the actual premise.

What redeems this book is that it is exquisitely well written. Allowing the odd premise, the reader is invited to explore the relationship between Henry and Clare as seen from their different perspectives. The whole thing alternating between a first person Clare and a first person Henry. While this switching of point of view can be difficult, Audrey Niffenegger handles it well and there were only a couple of points in the whole book where I forgot which person was relating the story. There was something in the story that, despite the odd premise, kept me reading; wanting to discover what happens (or happened) to these two people. If the writing had been less masterful, I would have put the book down after a couple of chapters; but no, I read to the very end and was pleased to have done so.

There was also a poetic feel to the writing, but it never became obtrusive. Rather, one stumbled across little gems of sentences like; "But all of our laments could not add a single second to her life, not one additional beat of the heart, nor a breath." It was a delight to stop at these points and reread a sentence or phrase and savour it for how well crafted it was.

I would recommend "The Time Traveler's Wife" as a good, well crafted, read that gets four, perhaps four-and-a-half stars, failing to get five only because of the silly premise.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Testament of Gideon Mack

Finally, I finished reading "The Testament of Gideon Mack" by James Robertson.

I have mixed feelings about this book. On the positive side, Robertson writes good, readable English. I can't recall having to re-read a passage because it lacked clarity. I particularly liked the masterful way he handled the Scottish accent in dialogue; he wrote Scots and carried it off remarkably well.

Robertson also conjures up a cast of believable characters ranging from the mundane to the truly eccentric. One could argue that the characters were a little under-developed but, as the book was largely written from the first person perspective of the egocentric Gideon Mack, this is entirely understandable.

Where Robertson lost the plot for me was in his story telling. The hardback edition of the book runs to 387 pages, but my feeling through the first 200 pages, was that I was reading a lengthy and turgid prologue. The second half was different, however, and the book got into stride finally leaving me pondering Gideon's story as if he were a real person.

The person who recommended this book to me said that they started reading somewhere around chapter 33 and then went back to the beginning after they had finished, in order to fill in the gaps. I tried it from the beginning (as I always do) and found it hard going. Both experiences suggest the Robertson needs to work on the story telling aspect of this book; it just isn't right as it is.

During the early part of the book, my star rating was hovering around 2 (out of five), but with the game lifting in the second half I think that Gideon Mack deserves 3 stars overall with the last half scoring 4 or even 4.5.

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