Monday, November 26, 2007

"Three Bags Full" by Leonie Swann

Any book that has a blurb on the back saying "Probably the best sheep detective novel you'll read all year!" can't take itself too seriously. I read a review of this one near the start of the summer, maybe on www.salon.com. I think it was part of a "beach reads" article. I requested it through interlibrary loan, and got it 3.5 weeks ago. It was very fun. I wanted to read it because I want to write a "Watership down of (insert name of animal here)" kind of book, and the idea of limited thought processes, skills and abilities in a mystery appealed to me.

The sheep can understand human speech (English but not Gaelic), but we can't understand them. They have lots of sheepy limitations -- they don't like to be alone, they eat all the time, they know they are edible, they generally (except Mopple the Whale) have poor memories. They have many sheepy advantages -- they can tell if a person is lying because they can smell it; no one is very concerned about them listening because they're, well, sheep; they can eat many things.

The book opens with the murder of their shepherd, George. The sheep (well, actually, Miss Maple, the smartest sheep in the flock) decide it's their duty to find out who committed the murder. In their investigations, they uncover details about a previous murder, enter the Smartest Sheep contest at the pub, one sheep goes to confession, they listen to many private conversations and meet some other sheep who seem sort of stupid compared to them. And they solve the murder.

These were special sheep. George used to read to them, and specified in his will that not only were they to be taken on a trip to Europe, but they were to have a shepherd who would read to them, 30 minutes per day. He read them Pamela novels, which seemed like a series of dreadful bodice-rippers, and a book about sheep diseases, and half of a mystery novel (before he threw it away in disgust). Their understanding of human interactions seemed deeply coloured by the Pamela novels, and they at one point used their knowledge of sheep diseases to great effect (they faked what looked to me like mad sheep disease). Their new shepherd read them "Wuthering Heights" which they would have liked more of, and threatened to read them "The Silence of the Lambs" next. They thought that sounded all right.

I quite liked that the resolution of the murder didn't make sense to them, because they are sheep. When I was done with this book, Ed read it too, and he liked it. That surprised me. It was probably because of Othello, the black 4-horned sheep.

Friday, November 09, 2007

"Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident" by Eoin Colfer

This book didn't offend me. I read it to the boy, and it moved along well enough and with enough humour to entertain him. Something that amazes me (and I suppose this is a criticism of him, not the books) is that the books were sitting around for maybe 18 months before we ran out of other things to read and wound up reading the first one, and then this one in quick succession (and I believe tomorrow I will get to purchase the third volume in the series). Why is he so reluctant to try something new?

Though we were casting about for something to read "in the meantime" a couple of nights ago, and he declined to start Harry Potter again. He said there was no point, now that there was nothing to anticipate. Fascinating.

Update on my coworkers making fun of my clothing:

Yesterday the person who referred to one garment I wear as my "elf suit" wore a boxy green jacket with a large applique weasel wrapping around the neck. The head was on her left shoulder, and the tail was down the right. She is now in no position ever to comment on my clothing again.

Okay, I might be exaggerating. It could have been a badger.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

"Briar Rose" by Jane Yolen

Found this in the Young Adult section of the library and picked it up without reading the back because I like fairy tale things. I hadn't realized I had read another book in this series, "Snow White and Rose Red", which featured two girls named Blanche and Rosamund (neither of those names sounds particularly beautiful to my ear, maybe because I hear them with a New England accent). I just looked it up on Amazon to get the title right, and considering that I got it out of the library at Toronto City Hall, I must have taken it out at least twelve years ago. I'm amazed I remember much of anything about it. And I discovered it was by Patricia C. Wrede, whose Enchanted Forest Chronicles I quite liked.

I had a hard time getting into this book. I read the first 40 pages or so, which alternate between short chapters where Gemma (the grandmother) tells Sleeping Beauty in different snippets to her three granddaughters (abandoning the story at a later point each time for a different reason), and present-day, where the girls are all grown up and Gemma dies in a nursing home.
I actually had to renew the book at this point.

After I had taken this book out of the library, I kept coming across the name Jane Yolen on blogs I read, in reviews I looked at. She came up in Garth Nix's favourite YA authors list, for example, and she was reading at something, I forget what. This seemed weird, because somehow I had been unaware of her before. Maybe I had read something by her a long time ago, and not noticed. Maybe I just don't get down to the Y section of the bookshelves often (though I seem to spend a good amount of time nearby at W). I probably wouldn't have even finished this book if there hadn't been such a freaky buzz about Jane Yolen in Robyn's world.

When I was describing "What I'm reading right now" to my coworkers (I'm thinking I might talk too much at work, maybe I should watch that) I called it "Sleeping Beauty in Auschwitz". But that would only be because most people haven't heard of Chelmno. I know I hadn't, but then I haven't read that much about the holocaust.

Anyway, after I finished a couple of other books, one day I just sat down and read about 100 pages. This was good, because I had another new book out of the library (one I had requested several months before, which took a long time to come) and I wanted to finish this one before starting that. YA novels are good for finishing.

And that's when I got to the good part, I guess. I initially found the "wrapping" story-within-a-story device kind of annoying, and just wanted her toget on with the tale. But it was very good, because it set up Sleeping Beauty as being true in its own horrifying way. It was profoundly sad, and honest I think, in a way that fantasy literature often doesn't have to be. People seem to walk around attempting genocide and the like in fantasy without much guilt or responsibility.

Anyway, I won't wreck the story for you. You should read it. And I think I'll look for more Jane Yolen in the future (and not because Garth Nix told me to).