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Sat, 16 Aug 2003

The Ringmaster’s Daughter

— SjG @ 4:02 pm

Josten Gaarder, 2003, translated by James Anderson, Phoenix Press

(I’ll admit to having read this book while on a long flight, so the myriad ways that such conditions affect a reader may be worth taking into consideration.)

The book is based on the premise of a brilliant narrator, Petter, who overflows with narrative. From his childhood, he has had the ability to tell stories, to invent, to embroider, and to fill in limitless detail. In fact, he has difficulty differentiating between his stories and actual events.
He has so many stories, so many scintillating aphorisms, and such an abundance of ideas that he goes into business selling them to authors who have run into writer’s block ( or who are good at the craft, but short on ideas). We witness Petter’s growing fear when it looks like he may be caught at his game — perhaps some authors would go to extreme measures to avoid having their secrets revealed? We hear a few of the stories Petter creates for his authors. We also become privy to his memories of his past, particularly the bittersweet memories of his mysterious lover Maria.
The voice of this book is reminiscent of Patrick Süskind’s Perfume, as it’s from the perspective of an individual who is, in one field at least, vastly superior to his fellow humans. And for at least part of the book, we enjoy this perspective. Particularly when Petter dwells on those who write, those who wish to write, and those who can’t write, he has some quite entertaining observations on the perception of writers versus the reality.
I found myself disappointed by a few elements of the story; Petter’s imaginary [?] companion, the three foot tall man, detracted from the telling. And then there’s the ending, much of which we see coming long in advance, which leaves us cold.

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Sat, 9 Aug 2003

The Unburied

— SjG @ 3:54 pm

The Unburied
Charles Palliser, 1999, Washington Square Press

Palliser is an expert in creating gritty, dark, atmospheric tales loaded
with exquisite detail, and The Unburied is no exception. It comprises three interlocking murder stories, all seen from the perspective of one of the least admirable narrators in memory. In fact, the book is singularly lacking in sympathetic characters, and yet still manages to keep our interest.
A University Professor gets called to visit an old friend, many years after a spectacular betrayal. He makes the visit, and, while there, his friend tells him of one of the mysteries surrounding the place, and the tale of an unsolved murder. From there, we get caught up in a snarled web of Gothic intrigue.
With the sole exception of one conversation that seems inexplicably drawn from a modern book on emotional recovery, the entire book moves quickly, has an unrelentingly grim atmosphere, and is quite engaging.

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