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Books To Look For
MacAdam/Cage, 2003, $25.
THE TITLE of this book was what made me pick it off the new release shelf in my local bookstore, but it was these sentences from the inside front flap that had me take it to the cash register to buy it:
"The Time Traveler's Wife is the story of Clare, a beautiful art student, and Henry, an adventurous librarian, who have known each other since Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-three and Henry thirty-one. Impossible but true, because Henry is one of the first people diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Order: periodically his genetic clock resets and he finds himself displaced in time, pulled to moments of emotional gravity from his life, past and future."Henry has no control over when he disappears, or when in time he'll appear. He arrives naked and has to fend for himself until he's abruptly brought back to the moment when he vanished. That, in itself, makes for fascinating reading, but Niffenegger is more interested in the relationship between these characters, and as we read on, so are we.
I have to admit that the way Clare and Henry first meet and interact felt a little…I don't want to say creepy, exactly, but there was an echo of that for me. Before they "officially" meet (Clare's twenty, Henry's twenty-eight) and begin the relationship that leads to their marriage, a lot of time is spent with an adult Henry visiting Clare as a child becoming a teenager.
Clare's completely enamored with Henry, but nothing untoward takes place; in fact, Henry knows how this can seem and is very careful with their relationship. But of course these constant visits from your future husband are going to make Clare's childhood odd—though not as odd as Henry's, with his constant moving through time. Both these formative influences on their characters play a huge role in who they become as they grow older.
Still, I don't want to make the book sound as if it's one-note, or as if it focuses too much on the age discrepancies. It only does so where necessary, and certainly, overall, the relationship between the two characters makes for an exhilarating read—a five-hundred-page book that feels far too short when you get to the end.
Niffenegger jumps back and forth between the characters' viewpoints, and back and forth in time, as well. One of her greatest accomplishments with this book is that all jumbled up as the time-line is, we still get a very clear sense of Clare's and Henry's growth as people. The Henry in his twenties is very different from the Henry in his thirties, and then his forties, and Niffenegger captures those differences in their relative point-of-view sections, while still maintaining a discernable, overall character arc.
There are great joys here, but heartbreaks, too. There's fascinating speculation and a loving attention to detail—both internal and external. There are small truths and large issues, both treated with equal care. There is humor and violence, and there are moments of tender peace.
In short, it has all the makings of a great novel, but more importantly, it delivers on its promise. We should all be so lucky to have a relationship with a loved one as strong as the one portrayed here.
I have no idea how many more books Niffenegger has in her, but I'm afraid this one will cast a tall shadow across whatever she tells next. That said, I'm certainly looking forward to her sophomore effort. If it's even half as good as The Time Traveler's Wife, it'll be another winner.
The Saga of Seven Suns: Veiled Alliances, by Kevin J. Anderson, Robert Teranishi & Wendy Fouts-Broome,
I'm a little unsure of the audience for this graphic novel. The art's terrific, and the storytelling is fine, but while Veiled Alliances introduces us to a large cast of interesting characters, and a universe of fascinating aliens and worlds, it doesn't really come to much of a satisfying conclusion. That's because it's a prequel to Anderson's The Saga of Seven Suns series. There are two books in the series so far—Hidden Empire and A Forest of Stars—big, engrossing, prose sf novels.
So, if you want to find out what happens to these folks, you need to switch from graphic story-telling format to regular prose, and I'm not sure the comic book audience will necessarily do so. Just as I'm not sure that the book audience will pick up what's basically a twenty-five-dollar hardcover comic book simply to get some more background on the books they've read and enjoyed.
I could be wrong, and I'm sure the creators and publishers are hoping for both those things to happen.
I hope so, too, because, while Veiled Alliances does leave the reader hanging somewhat at the end, it's a gorgeous piece of graphic storytelling and deserves to be seen and read.
The Great Encyclopedia of Faeries, by Pierre Dubois,
The interest in books about fairies and the other denizens of Elfland appears to continue unabated. Here we have a new pair of books from a familiar chronicler of the subject and one who is new—at least to me.
Dubois's book is oversized and crammed with text and art. Since it was originally published in France in 1999, I'm going to assume that this edition is a translation, but if that's the case, whoever translated it did a fine job. The prose has a nice flow to it, and is both detailed and informative in how it deals with its subject matter. I also don't know if the material presented herein is based on actual Franco-European traditions, has been made up, or is some combination of the two. Many of the names and genii of the fairies are unfamiliar to me, but there are certainly echoes of fairy lore from the usual sources to be found throughout.
Appreciation of the art—of which there is plenty; each page is chock-full of portraits and designs—is probably going to be a matter of personal taste. Claudine and Roland Sabatier are certainly skilled, working in a style that's reminiscent of the graphic novels that are so popular in Europe: lots of ink linework, vibrant colors, and a somewhat comic-book feel. I liked it for its expressive range, unusual designs, and—often—the sheer audacity of some of their depictions.
Froud's book is a collaboration with Ari Berk (a professor of literature at Central Michigan University who appears to specialize in folklore and myth), but in many ways it appears to be two books. One is an art book, with Froud's usual imaginative fairy figures running rampant, featuring a combination of graphite, colored pencil, ink, and even some collage work. The art doesn't so much appear to illustrate the prose, as inspire and complement it.
The text is a how-to manual for contacting the denizens of the otherworld, based on the runes of Elfland, which bear a striking resemblance to Nordic runes and the runes that Tolkien used in his work. The prose is well-written and personable, but not so informative as in the Dubois book, unless, of course, you're trying to contact fairies and this stuff actually works.
I'd recommend the Dubois book to those who want to expand their library of fairy lore (which should have as its cornerstone the works of Katharine Briggs); the Froud title to those of you who enjoy his art, for there are many new and fascinating images to found in The Runes of Elfland.
Material to be considered for review in this column should be sent to Charles de Lint, P.O. Box 9480, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1G 3V2.
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