The Just City

I’ve absolutely adored some of what Jo Walton has written, but after the disappointment of MY REAL CHILDREN, I approached THE JUST CITY with trepidation. And while it had originality and humour, and much of its middle section was ambitious and absorbing, I found the denouement – and its implications about the central conflict of the story – a huge letdown. I thought there were immensely interesting conflicts being layered through the key characters – the three viewpoint characters as well as the incipient antagonists, Kebes and Ikaros – but those did not ultimately mature, and in fact Kebes was transformed, unjustly and wastefully into a kind of bathetic caricature of male possessiveness and destructive vengefulness. (Like Gale Hawthorne in THE HUNGER GAMES with all unsympathetic characteristics dialled up to eleven.) There seemed to be so much promise for the carefully laid booby traps for the city (the slave children, the workers, the Noble Lie) to unfold organically and ensnare it in its own logic; but instead it all detonated on the single trigger of Sokrates’ revelations, which arose as abruptly as some gloating villain monologue, and indeed relied on Athene unaccountably (after several hundred pages of barely-there development) assuming that kind of inscrutably villainous role.

I can, however, wholeheartedly recommend Balli Kaur Jaswal’s SUGARBREAD, which I had the very greatly privilege of reading as an advance review copy, and of blurbing. (Thusly: “SUGARBREAD is a warm and wry portrait of childhood, in all its intensity and its confusions, and a deeply satisfying exploration of prejudice, conscience, loyalty and reconciliation.”)

Speed read

Read a whole bunch of things.

  • Binged on rereading S.E. Hinton: That Was Then, This Is Now; The Outsiders; Rumble Fish and Taming the Star Runner. I hadn’t touched some of these books for perhaps upward of a decade. It made me realise how much my teenage development of a sense of narrative owed to her. This is a nice article about her.
  • Yiyun Li’s Kinder Than Solitude: I really admire The Vagrants, so I was very excited to sink my teeth into this. I loved it – it was rich and powerful and (mostly) beautifully written – but the frequency (and sententiousness) of Li’s aphorising was sometimes an obstacle to my enjoyment, even though as a reader my tolerance for authorial intrusion is unusually high (I absolutely adore Byatt, and as a teenager I loved Heinlein and Hardy, so go figure).
  • Jo Walton’s My Real Children: I found this a little disappointing. It was fluent enough and offered a characteristically comfortable geek-feminist home, but it was a tad predictable (you could smell the fact and nature of Mark’s infidelity, and also Bee’s accident, a mile off), and also, didn’t I read another version of this novel – written with perhaps a little more emotional immediacy and less purely biographical sequencing – about seven or eight years ago?
  • Holiday reading

    Recently I sped through Jo Walton’s Small Change trilogy, a tasty bit of feministy alt-history fun – if “fun” is the right word to use regarding a universe where a 1940s-60s Britain, having made peace with the Third Reich, is sidling into fascism, with the help of a brutal political murder or five. It all ends in a rather silly way – perhaps inevitably, given the tension between the deathly awfulness of the subject matter and the page-turning drawing-room novel tone, a difficulty which began to weigh increasingly heavily in the third entry. But the first two books in particular were tremendously enjoyable.

    I’m soon going on holiday, and hope to spend much time curled in a hammock with the printed word. I’m looking at probably Akhil Sharma’s Family Life and China MiĆ©ville’s Kraken: unless, dear lurker, you have something else to recommend?

    Fantasy reading in 2013

    I have a new piece up at The F Word about some of the brilliant fantasy novels that I’ve read in 2013: Kit Whitfield’s In Great Waters, Jo Walton’s Among Others, and Jo Walton’s Sulien ap Gwien trilogy. I wish I’d managed to read more straight-up literary fiction, but it’s been a huge year for me – baby to care for, cross-continental move, new Day Job – so time and energy have been in frustratingly short supply.