Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Gargoyle

The setup of The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson sounds a bit like a Stephen King novel (especially his recent books that deal with convalescents) - a horribly burned man meets a brilliant gargoyle carver/mental patient who convinces him to come back to her place after he is released from the hospital. The narrator (our burned ex-porn star semi-hero) isn't sure about Marianne Engel (the artist/schizophrenic) at first, mostly because she claims to be over 700 years old and to have known him in a past life. But he begins to trust her and does eventually end up at her home, where he learns the story of their past relationship.

I really loved this book, but for reasons I can't quite explain. It's not like I have anything in common with any of the characters or their situations. I think it's more the "1001 Arabian Nights" quality of Marianne's storytelling that captured me - the narrator longs to hear more about the perceived relationship between himself and Marianne, but she keeps interjecting other tales of love lost. By the time he understands his feelings for her, though, those other stories are as much a part of him as they are of her. In fact, it was the past-life story, along with the other stories that Marianne told, that were the most compelling part of the narrative for me - I cared more about the lovers from the past than the horrors of the present.

I really enjoyed Davidson's writing style because it wasn't overly fancy. Rather, the story is told by someone who has had a lot of time to reflect on what happened, and as such, is described in very realistic terms. Such a strong narrative is hard to find in a debut book, and I'm curious to see what else Davidson can do.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Last Night at the Lobster

I picked up Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan randomly from my school library's small fiction collection, mostly because I find Red Lobster hilarious. See, there are no Red Lobsters in Massachusetts, and my mother gets in a rage whenever she sees a commercial for one on TV - "the closest Red Lobster is in Connecticut" she yells at the screen, "stop telling me about them!" So a book about a Red Lobster in Connecticut closing made me laugh.

I had never read anything by O'Nan, but I've heard good things. At first, I was a little turned off by his writing style - it's almost overly-literary for such a mundane topic. But it didn't take me long to appreciate it, as details are described in ways that make them completely true to life. O'Nan managed to make something as boring as a defunct chain restaurant beseiged by snow seem compelling. I'm not saying that Last Night at the Lobster is an earth-shattering book in any way, but it's an enjoyable, highly readable short novel. I'm glad that I've given O'Nan a shot, and I look forward to reading more of his books.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor the the Nation, Vol. 1

Octavian is raised in a world of science and is told from a young age that he is an exiled prince of a great African nation. However, when rumblings of revolt shatter the walls of the lyceum, the true nature of Octavian's birth and life are revealed.

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1: The Pox Party opens in a time and place which are unclear, but as the story unfolds, it is clear that it takes place in Boston just before the American Revolution. The writing style, mostly in the voice of Octavian himself, is therefore very florid and somewhat archaic, making it very hard to digest as a Young Adult novel. In fact, because of the writing style, I can't picture many young adults getting far enough into the book to discover the historical aspects of it. That's not to say that it's not a good book - just that it may be missing the mark a bit.

I did have another problem with the writing style - Octavian's narrative is interspersed with letters from various characters, which is fine, as they add another depth to the narrative. However, about two-thirds of the way into the book, the narration changes to letters written by one Patriot soldier, who happens to meet and befriend Octavian. Then, there is another abrupt switch back to Octavian's POV. This was terribly jarring to me and, while I realize that Octavian wasn't in his usual mindset during that part of the story, I felt a bit cheated to only get the soldier's side of the story.

Overall, I can't say that I recommend this book, unless you are really interested in historical fiction dealing with the American Revolution. For stories dealing with that time period, though, this is a breakthrough novel, both in terms of the narrator and in the narration style. if you enjoy this book, Volume 2: The Kingdom of Waves, will be released in October.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Queen of Babble in the Big City

Lizzie met the man of her dreams and found her calling in France. Now she's moved to New York to try to make both of those things work for her. She jumps into living with her boyfriend Luke, after only a few weeks together, and is forced to take an unpaid job reworking wedding dresses to make her career goals. Of course, things are less than stable, and Lizzie has to stand up for what she wants.

In typical over-the-top style, Queen of Babble in the Big City is an enjoyable, fast-paced chick lit novel. I mean, there's really nothing earth-shattering with this series, but Meg Cabot knows how to handle funny, self-deprecating, driven women. I prefer her books The Boy Next Door, Boy Meets Girl, or even the Heather Wells mystery series (which begins with Size 12 Is Not Fat), but the Queen of Babble series is a good time. Book 3, Queen of Babble Gets Hitched, was just released, so I'm sure I'll be picking that up soon for a beach read.