Why I read it: There was a review in Salon, and so I requested the book from the library. Actually I requested it months after I'd read the review, because the review of the book reminded me of Nadine, my ex-coworker who is a britophile. I think what I liked in the review was the description of the layers upon layers of history in the ground in Britain, which aren't so apparent here in North America. While there's history underneath everything here, too, it seems like natural history, not so much human history. Maybe the First Nations lived lighter on the land than Angles and Saxons ever did in Britain.
I had a conversation with the librarian when I checked it out, that resulted in the conclusion that I was going to have to read 40 pages per day to get it read on time, because there were other requests so I wouldn't be able to renew it. Did I mention before why it was "in transit" and the like for several weeks? (I have a feeling I wrote a note about this somewhere.) I believe that was because it was on the "seven day no renewal" shelf. There are some issues, I think, with the TPL computer system. Still, I got my book eventually so it's all good now.
Bookmark: Scrap paper on which I scribbled notes.
Tastes like chicken: Joseph Cornell. Crazy, but true.
What I liked: For an 838-page book, it sure moved along. I couldn't tell you what the plot was, but the story mostly centers on a father and son who have a fractured relationship. The son turns out to be much more intelligent and knowledgeable than he seemed at the beginning of the story, and the father much more broken for a much longer period of time. I was surprised that the experiences that were outlined near the start of the book as being the formation of his current wretched condition had happened a long time ago.
There was so much stuff going on. There was so much history, so much, well, I hate to call it research, because I know I've complained about other books as seeming research-heavy. But this wasn't research for the sake of having some facts, it was research that was like foundation cards on which the whole crazy teetering stack of characters could stay upright. I assume the facts were true. Maybe that's stupid of me. It's just that the details that I had heard of before were true, so I figure the ones I hadn't heard of were, too. Jaffa cakes really exist, after all. Maybe there really isn't a sect of Kurds with a hatred of lettuce who worship peacocks. Then I'm a sucker. I'm okay with that.
What I hated: Let me take this opportunity to rant about the formatting. Who typesets a novel in Frugiter Lite? I only noticed because we use Frutiger (it's a sans-serif) at work, but certainly not in the main body of anything. The paragraph indentations seemed random. It took me quite a while to get used to the crazy spots where sometimes pages and pages would be double-spaced, and then I started to understand it, and that was okay. And the quarter-page gaps where sections within a chapter started and ended. And some "parts" (the book was divided into I think five) had numbered chapters, whereas others had chapters that were named after places.
Some characters would occasionally launch into a different language, and that was in a bold, serifed font, but translated into English. This was funny. I didn't mind the Britishisms that the Salon reviewer complained about. I live in Canada. I spell color one way or the other depending on mood, and whether I'm at work or not.
What I can steal: This is the sort of book that I hope will infuse my being and make me a better writer. Reading it was like watching someone walk a tightrope, or play Paganini, or watching a heist movie, or NASCAR. There were so many places where it could just fall apart, fall into sappiness, or just get annoying, or crash and burn, but it managed to work.
Maybe I can work the obliqueness, the subtlety, into my own writing. I liked that we the readers were allowed to draw inferences, figure that after the end of the book, this character and that character were going to hook up, Kane would have a point to his life, Dory had burned his whole neighbourhood down... but it was never said explicitly. That was nice. If I didn't want something to happen or have happened, I didn't need to be mad about it, because it was all in my own mind.