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02 January 2010 @ 11:58 pm
I had a smart post in my head ...  
... but it is really hot today (cue calanthe_fics , pingrid  and raitala  giggling, yes, I complain about ALL weather that's not 9-19 degrees C), so my brain has turned to slurry.

I do have one question though, for people who remember Conan Doyle better than I do: How likely would Holmes be to say 'discombobulate'? It sounds too American to me, but then, Holmes had wide acquaintance with Americans, so ...

Also, a book mini-review. I was going to write about this one in more depth, but I left my copy with Cal  after my laptop had died, so had no opportunity to do so with the book beside me. Apologies in advance for generalities rather than quotes.

I've bought and read all of Justine Larbalestier's novels, and been equally impressed and frustrated. She's really bright and talented, but her first trilogy had significant distracting elements for me, both in the copy editing and in the internal logic of the overall story. Her next, How to Ditch Your Fairy, was a great read all the way up to the end, which I found a bit too quick and unresolving: all these great questions, and so few answers to any of them (still worth the read, though!).

Liar, her most recent book, is one that you may have heard of, because it excited a lot of debate over a publisher's decision to pop a white girl on the cover, despite the lead character describing herself as black. And you may have also heard people talking about its unreliable narrator. Which I can't do without spoilers, so the rest of this is going under a cut.

Micah is our heroine, smart but slightly twisted, she tells us straight away that she can't be trusted and proceeds to unravel her tale of what happened before and after the death of Zach, one of the most popular boys at her school, with whom she was having an after-hours fling. Except that once she's done unravelling one tale: they were friends, they kissed but nothing more, they ran together, because running was what she was really good at ... she unravels a new and darker one, recanting much of the first in the process.

As the story goes on, Micah offers new explanations for her actions, including the fact that she is a werewolf, and comes from a family of same, save for her parents, who are unaffected by the family disease. Her running is that of a person with supernatural skill, her intuitions the product of scent, and the eerie figure she runs across in the city, another werewolf, one she suspects of killing Zach. This part of the story is even more complex and convincing than the first, but just as the tale reaches its climax, again, it is undercut.

There is much to enjoy in Liar. I found Micah's tales engaging and intriguing, and several times I thought I knew what was 'right' (I can still argue my idea for how it really ends with conviction). The novel has Larbalestier's Good Ideas writ large, and a great deal of persuasive storytelling within it. I think as a 'novel', it's her most successful book, though I have to admit, I still have issues.

I should say first that most of these issues probably come about because I am from the 60s and I like my post modernism to be post modern, not stealth, and my unreliable narrators to be reliably unreliable and I like to finish a book with a fairly good sense of how it actually ended. So Liar was not written with a person like me in mind. But that said, it was impossible to get a grip on any character other than Micah because we only ever saw her interpretations of them, and Micah herself was so endlessly re-self-inventing that she remained elusive, too. In the end, I applauded the great skill in creating the novel -- the sort of thing that you say bravura and tour-de-force about if people are paying you for the review -- but had a terrible attack of the E.M. Fortsers in wanting to -- and being unable to -- connect.

That said, you young folk with your Twitters and your Gossip Girls and your non-linear narratives should definitely give it a go if you are looking for a pacey, intriguing YA thriller from a skilled writer. It will certainly have you thinking more than most of the YA novels you're likely to pick up! And the supernatural sections are written with such matter-of-fact verve that they alone make it thoroughly worth the price of the paperback.
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calanthe_fics on January 2nd, 2010 02:58 pm (UTC)
I have just been looking at the precarious stack which is my next-to-bed-to-be-read pile, and this book is there.

I think I may end up feeling similarly to you. I want some sort of 'rules' applied to what I read, and anything too free-form and 'out there' probably won't make it onto the 'to be read again at some point' stack.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on January 2nd, 2010 03:02 pm (UTC)
AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Sorry, can't reply sensibly, hopelessly distracted by Dishevelled!Dan ;-)
calanthe_fics on January 2nd, 2010 03:03 pm (UTC)
It is my 2010 version of this icon *points upwards*

Bah to your layout! *points sideways*

Edited at 2010-01-02 03:04 pm (UTC)
blamebramptonblamebrampton on January 2nd, 2010 03:11 pm (UTC)
AAIIIIIIEEEEEE! That one has always terrified me!
calanthe_fics on January 2nd, 2010 03:12 pm (UTC)
With good reason.

You've not met Mr Cal have you?
blamebramptonblamebrampton on January 2nd, 2010 03:14 pm (UTC)
I am giving you such a look.

And possibly avoiding the entire Oxford region for some time to come ...
calanthe_fics on January 2nd, 2010 03:17 pm (UTC)
I'll tell him to bind them when we're expecting you.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on January 2nd, 2010 03:19 pm (UTC)
The new look I am giving you is astonishing, even I am impressed at the widths my eyes will manage ;-)
calanthe_fics on January 2nd, 2010 03:20 pm (UTC)
One tries. It is, after all, a New Year, and thus there are new depths to be plumbed.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on January 2nd, 2010 03:23 pm (UTC)
You do have a gift. At least Dan's morning hair is worse than either of ours ...
wemysswemyss on January 2nd, 2010 03:01 pm (UTC)
Holmes' well of English NOT being permanently defiled...
... there's not a chance he'd say 'discombobulate'. Even whilst posing as Altamont.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on January 2nd, 2010 03:11 pm (UTC)
Re: Holmes' well of English NOT being permanently defiled...
Yes, offhand I couldn't recall an instance of him using Yankee slang, save when in character, and even then, it was more accent-driven and minor.

It occurs to me that discombobulate is one of those words that sounds so thoroughly Victorian that modern scriptwriters may assume it's English, despite coming from the same robust American that brought about such great words as persnickety and that other one I really like but am too tired to remember. Scripts seem to be written by 16 year olds today, and it's no surprise they have never heard of writers like Twain ...
trichinopoly ash: master: ftwaldehyde on January 3rd, 2010 07:31 am (UTC)
ah i remember being so stressed out with "how to ditch your fairy" b/c of all the inconsistencies even though the concept was so neat.

"liar" sounds equally intriguing - especially since i've always liked unreliable narrators :D i'll definitely have to put it on my to-read list!

ps: oh i can't recall if holmes ever used that word, but something about it seems a bit off..

Edited at 2010-01-03 07:32 am (UTC)
blamebramptonblamebrampton on January 3rd, 2010 07:36 am (UTC)
Yes, it was a moment of lexical ??! for me in the film, but I was wiling to let it go if anyone could supply a canon reference. Like Wodehouse, Conan Doyle played around with American dialect at times and so it wasn't outside the realms of possibility. However, I trust Wemyss when he says 'Oh no.' :-)

And yes, I do recommend Liar even though I'm not certain I actually liked it. I think that Larbalestier might be my YA equivalent of Bruckner: I can see all the talent and skill, but at the end of the day, I'd just rather listen to Beethoven ...
trichinopoly ashaldehyde on January 3rd, 2010 07:39 am (UTC)
i'll definitely keep that in mind re: larbalestier. i always have a few minutes/hours/[days?] of uncertainty after i read a story involving an unreliable author - i can't completely decide whether i enjoyed it or not. a part of me wants to know for sure if my interpretation of events is correct, while the other is gleeful at all the possibilities. it's fun but also makes me feel uneasy :P