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In amongst all of the PhD redrafting and the #NaNoWriMo project that now feels like it was months ago (although I need to get back to it soon…), I have tried to find time to read. In particular, I was really excited to read Ros Barber‘s The Marlowe Papers, a novel in verse that is, in part, about the Shakespeare authorship question.
Week three is up, and my #AcWriMo/#NaNoWriMo project is on-track at 36,500 words and counting.
I spent a fair amount of time this week tinkering around with Scalar to try to improve the styling, and I’m increasingly sceptical of the merits of Scalar for digital publishing. It might be useful for people without the time or inclination to produce something independently, but the Scalar 2 interface is currently poor. In the end, I abandoned it and reverted the whole piece back to Scalar 1 in order to get something that was more manageable. In Scalar 2, for example, it proved difficult to change the background colour (because it overlays its grey-and-white page over the top of it) or right-align any text without it intervening into the space left for the annotation tab. The whole structure seems to be under-developed at the moment, so reverting felt like the right thing to do.
I also had to go through the pieces already posted in order to deal with html that followed me from Scrivener. I haven’t used Scrivener for quite a long time, as it didn’t really suit my PhD writing process. Although I still like the organisational structure it gives for chapters and other pieces, which works well for creative projects, for future chapters I’m going to take things first through Atom and do some marking up there, as the Scalar HTML content pane isn’t very friendly for larger pieces (this is one of the few points where the Scalar 2 interface had the upperhand).
In terms of the writing itself, the story is finally branching out from the original, so the amount of creative work required has increased substantially. There’s quite a lot of research to be done, but I’m looking forward to getting the story substantially completed this week, and then getting to work on the framing and final touches. Only 10 days left!
It has been years since I’ve had enough time to do any writing creatively. I’ve dabbled a bit each summer, but the full-time job and part-time PhD have been more than enough to handle. Now that I’m on career break to focus on writing up, though, I think I might actually get a chance to focus on some creative projects, and the fact that it’s almost November is just perfect. I’m going to go back to NaNoWriMo!
While researching my PhD chapter on Oscar Wilde and The Picture of Dorian Gray, I did a lot of wider reading and reread Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun. The homologies between the two novels—with characters and art blended in unusual ways—got me thinking, and I couldn’t help but wonder how Hawthorne’s tale might have been told differently. (Despite the very best efforts of Elisa New and her class on American poetry, my enjoyment of more overtly Puritanical nineteenth-century American fiction is always tempered.)
I started wondering how the bare facts of the story might be retold by a young Oscar Wilde, travelling Rome and the surrounding area. The ideas and values that produced Dorian Gray might have led the story in a completely different direction. I made some notes and toyed around with the idea a little a few years ago, so I’m going to resurrect it. As well as reframing the novel as a piece of neo-Victorian literature, I also plan to construct a critical paratext around the new text, framing it as a digital critical edition, with analyses of differences in style, form, and content.
Although most of my fiction and poetry writing has been digital, I’ve never conceived of novel-writing as a digital humanities project before, and it’s going to be fun to try out some of the skills that I’ve used annotating and creating editions on NAVSA’s Central Online Victorian Educator on an independent project.
I had never actually heard of this novella until I saw a review of this most recent translation by Bryan Kartenyk. Russian literature has always been something I’ve thoroughly enjoyed — thanks in no small part to a wonderful professor in college (William Mills Todd) — but known only partially. My primary academic focus is British literature, along with some elements of French and Spanish literature and a tiny dash of American literature, so reading Russian literature has only ever been a for-pleasure activity, easily squeezed out of my busy work and academic life.
I always meant to watch the 2009 film of this (details on IMDB), but came across Lindqvist‘s Let the Right One In in the Kindle store and thought that I would buy it to save for a moment of boredom when I wanted to read something on my phone/iPad (I use the app and don’t have an actual Kindle). That moment came on a plane recently, when I’d read most of Rayner’s A Greedy Man in a Hungry World (review) and wanted something new to help keep me awake!
I would highly recommend this book, as it’s a gripping read.
Although told mainly through the eyes of a 12-year-old boy, Oskar, the book tackles a wide range of seriously ‘grown-up’ issues, including child abuse and neglect, ‘broken homes’ and absent parents, alcoholism, paedophilia, and chronic bullying. It can be hard to judge when reading in translation, but I found Lindqvist’s style wonderfully clear and lucid. I enjoyed the story’s focus on two core groups that parallel one other: Oskar and his classmates, and Lacke and his friends (and fellow alcoholics).
The growing relationship between Oskar and new arrival, Eli, is a joy. There is something very understated in the way that each and every momentous discovery in their relationship — She’s a vampire? She’s a boy? — is handled lightly but not flippantly. Oskar’s growing detachment from his parents and isolation from his schoolmates, most of whom either actively bully him or passively ostracise him, leaves his hopes of having his emotional needs met pinned exclusively on Eli. The coming-of-age story, Oskar beginning to stand up for himself and pursue physical fitness as a means of taking control of his life, is blended with the horror story of a vampire slipping into the midst of the small community and decimating it. Bodies stack up quickly, and Eli is both monstrous and fascinating. Eli’s story, told mainly in flashbacks, has echoes of Anne Rice’s Armand, but isn’t Lindqvist’s focus, and it lurks in the background as a dark echo of the suffering of the modern-day children in the book.
Many of the most heartrending moments come from these ‘minor’ characters, particularly from Tommy, an older teen, sliding into drug use and petty crime, whose mother is on the verge of marrying a police officer who will inevitably hate his stepson (the suggestion is he’s a likely abuser); and from Jonny, Oskar’s nemesis, whose tangled family situation and struggle with his emotions about his absent father, hint at sad roots to his behaviour.
The book manages to produce moments of real menace, and surprisingly, none of them were incited by Eli. I felt real terror for Tommy, locked in with a brain-damaged, priapic, vampire-Hakan; for Oskar as Jonny and his brother and friends begin to descend upon him, apparently intent on murder or maiming; and for Eli when being attacked by paedophile Hakan, and when Lacke plans to murder Eli for killing his friend Jocke and his some-time girlfriend, Virginia. Although only a small element in the novel, I also felt real concern for Tommy’s mother, so wishing to be loved that she is willing to shrink herself — and probably put herself in physical danger — in order to be in a relationship with police officer Steffan.
This is a story where the weak, generally children, but also vulnerable adults, are threatened and imperilled by the strong; where those who are abused turn on those below them in turn; and where a darker threat is in fact a possible saviour. It is sensitive and well done, except for the very ending of the book, when Eli murders Jonny and his brother in order to rescue Oskar. The violence between Oskar and his bullies had been slowly escalating, through physical wounds and arson to their attempted murder, but I wonder whether its culmination had to be so flippant. Eli whips off their heads and, whilst flying, deposits them in the swimming pool. Was the sadism in Eli’s revenge really needed? Perhaps it was, as the ultimate escalation of the whole novel’s violence, but it didn’t quite ring true for me.
China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station is, I think, the longest book on my Classics Club list, at 867 pages, and so is the jewel in the crown of my Chunkster reading challenge entry!* I’ve read Miéville’s Kraken before, but none of the Bas-Lag series. I heard him speak at a few different events during the Edinburgh Book Festival’s 50th anniversary World Writers Conference, and I was impressed with his insight and bold, uncompromising politics (try his London’s Overview for an example).
I’m glad that I read this and got through it quickly enough that I could keep up with the thread of the story (sometimes a challenge with chunksters!). The plot revolves around an unorthodox mixed-species couple, renegade scientist Isaac and artist Lin, both commissioned by unusual customers: Yagharek, a criminal looking to use technology to reverse his punishment (the loss of his wings), and Motley, a drug-lord who has used technology to become an enormous, composite creature and who wants his form immortalised. The two commissions collide when one of the devilish, almost indestructible moths that Motley is farming — sold to him by the corrupt government — ends up in Isaac’s lab as a possible winged specimen, resulting in five moths being released and terrorising the city.
The book is political in its presentation of an unwholesome urban landscape run by a corrupt government; overcrowded, dirty, full of little warring factions, stricken by poverty. The way that Miéville develops and draws New Crobuzon, particularly the religious factions (one of which Lin has escaped) and the scientific community (a totalising university and creatives working outside it). However, the book loses its way about 70% through, when it becomes plot focused. Along the way, the book shifts from being contemplative and mysterious to being a relatively straightforward ‘renegade bands defeat evil where the authorities cannot’ story, á la Diehard or a Clive Cussler novel.
The rag-tag group surrounding Isaac becomes more of a set of stock characters. The political activist (Derkhan), wounded and troubled, but willing to do whatever is necessary; the troubled misfit (Yagharek) who it transpires has all of the skills others are lacking (agility and impressive strength); and the small cast of criminals and mercenaries who are just enough to get things done. Intriguing characters are introduced but hardly used to their full potential, such as the Council (a self-constructed AI) and the Weaver (a multidimensional spider responsible for the ‘world weave’). I found myself reading simply to get to the end, to find out how they achieve their mission, but not because I had any particular interest in the characters or the world anymore. Isaac’s kidnap of a dying man to be sacrificed in the crisis engine that will destroy the moths hardly registers because, unsurprisingly, the main characters are trying not to think about it, and therefore neither does Miéville.
Despite its length, I think the novel therefore fails in its efforts to be an epic. Yagharek’s journey bookends the whole novel, and its individual chapters. At the end, he is abandoned by Isaac after Isaac is confronted by the victim of Yagharek’s crime, for which he was dewinged: ‘choice theft’ in his homeland, but as the visiting garuda says, “You would call it rape”. This final fling with moralising is literally tacked on to the main story, part of Isaac, Lin and Derkhan’s escape from the militia that are supposedly hunting them (although the government also essentially drop off the radar about 70% through the book, left as only a stock dystopian presence). It is a shame that with 850+ pages, the book wasn’t able to balance the need for a clear plot with the spirit of sketching a convincing new world.
* I’ve been slightly remiss in posting the links to my reviews on the Chunkster page, but will be doing so for this one and will try to remember in future.