Archive for September, 2014

Secret PlaceMy only worry on starting this one was reading it too quickly – her prose is so lyrical and rich that it’s nearly impossible to stop once I’ve started. I seriously wondered whether I’d be able to sip or if I’d be forced – again – to drink deeply until the cup ran dry. Turns out not much sipping went on.

I ended up enjoying this one at least as much as her others, which is strange to me since, as I was reading through the early chapters, I remember thinking to myself that her prose wasn’t quite so lyrical, wasn’t prompting me to capture all the quotes I usually grab from her – noticing all of this, by the way, without it diminishing my total submersion into the story.

Before too long, though, the magic started seeping in – so much so that (like all good writing) I forgot I was reading, and forgot to collect those dark and shiny quotes as often as I’d done before; they were too good, too perfect for me to pause and clip them away from the whole pattern. It would have taken me out of the story.

With “The Secret Place,” Tana French mines some familiar territory, and handles it as deftly as she has before. The dynamics between friends – real, true, forever friends – was definitely the main reason I was so utterly captured by “The Likeness,” her second novel but the first of hers that I read. (After that I immediately went back and read the first, “In the Woods,” and was then forced to wait the several years between those and each of the next three.) The effortless closeness of the college students in “Likeness” reminded me of the few close fiends I’d had during that time, how bonds like that are forged, and sometimes broken.

In “The Secret Place,” French goes back even further, to a group of early teenaged girls boarding at an elite Irish school in the heart of Dublin. She focuses on two distinct groups, each with their tidal pulls and pushes, each their reasons for attracting and repelling others. The obnoxious group, not-so-fondly referred to by the main four as The Daleks, are all of the worst stereotypes of teenage girls rolled into four distinct personalities: the ringleader is someone you would cheerfully smack in the face every time she crossed your path; her minions are, for the most part, simpering hangers-on who put up with her awfulness mainly for fear of not being one of her inner circle. Despicable, all.

The main group, though, represents everything I remember as being strong, magical, impermeable about true friendship, while painting a much more relatable picture of what teenage girls can be and do and represent. Fierce loyalty, innate intelligence, soaring imaginations, insular senses of shared humor, profound empathy – all described beautifully and believably, as French so often does. Having had a hand in raising two teenaged girls, still witnessing their own growth and that of their friends, I’m glad to say that although I recognized some Dalek behavior in some of their acquaintances, if any were lucky enough to make it to true friendship status they were always more like the “good four” seen here than the bad ones. Still are, like attracting like the way it does.

I won’t spoil the discovery by rehashing the blurb – the short description and my familiarity with the author’s canon were more than enough to tease me into starting it – except to say that The Secret Place, like most of her titles, represents more than just one spot, and that – like all secrets – they bond the knowers together, like it or not.

I like the way she alternates between the girls’ perspective and the investigating officers from the Dublin Murder Squad. (All of French’s novels have so far featured different members of the Squad, usually with little overlap. All can be read as standalone stories and out of order, if necessary, without loss. This is the fifth in the series.) That back and forth in time and perspective, as well as a very creepy countdown that occurs in one of the two paths, reminded me of Stephen King’s totally effective use of a similar device in “It.” Like that one, as the novel gains momentum and suspense I found myself hating to leave one of the threads to return to the other only to feel the same way when that chapter ended and I was back on the first track. Continuing that model past what most may see as the “traditional” denouement was a bold and brilliant choice, and provided me with one of the most evocative and emotional scenes (of many) in the book, one that not only tied up and retstated some of the main themes, but which delivered its various epiphanies in such a gorgeous way that I had to pause and appreciate and remember how that had felt in my own story.

The juxtaposition of the deep friendship of the main girls with the unfamiliarity of the main two cops was also executed beautifully. Their differences in style and behavior were legion, but seeing them begin to develop some of the same signals and marks of friendship exhibited by the girls was beautiful, and masterfully done.

I also loved hearing the lilting pronunciations and flip-flopped sentence structure of the very Irish dialog as I read it. That and the just-right dashes of local slang thrown into the mix made the characters all the more believable, yeah?

Having said that I missed out on some of the better quotes at the beginning, in looking I found that I saved more than I remembered. Here are a few of my favorite lines, to give you just a taste of the power of Tana French’s paintbrush pen:

“… a sudden blond smiling afternoon that popped its head up in the middle of a string of hovering wet days.”

“The moon catches flashes of light and snippets of color strewn through the bushes, like a crop of sweets in a witch’s garden.”

“She’s sitting up with her arms clasped round her knees and her face tilted up to the sky. The moonlight hits her full on, burning her out to something you can only half see, a ghost or a saint. She looks like she’s praying. Maybe she is.”

“None of them say anything. They keep their eyes closed. They lie still and feel the world change shape around them and inside them, feel the boundaries set solid; feel the wild left outside, to prowl perimeters till it thins into something imagined, something forgotten.”

I won’t spoil any more – there are a couple of surprises that are simply too good to reveal, even elliptically.

Well worth your time if you appreciate strong tales well told, and if your heart may need a jump start to remind it of how you once saw the world and all of its possibilities.

Advertisements

Maplecroft is another amazing accomplishment for Cherie Priest. Maplecroft

I’ve read nearly everything she’s written, and have never been disappointed. On the contrary, her books – especially those in the Clockwork Century line (Boneshaker, Ganymede, The Inexplicables and others) – are some of my all-time favorites of any genre. Brilliantly drawn characters, period language (made up period though it may be!) and evocative stories with noble themes never fail to satisfy and impress.

I remember vividly a scene early in the second tale in the series, Dreadnought, where a newly trained nurse enters the chaotic main ward of a Civil War hospital – a war that’s lasted more than 20 years in this universe – and is so thunderstruck at the pain and horror before her that she whispers under her breath, “Where do I start…?” I remember feeling her fear and frustration and amazement viscerally thanks to Ms. Priest’s incredible abilities.

When I heard that she was tackling a new series of stories that had nothing to do with the Clockwork Century universe, I was disappointed and excited all at once. When I discovered what types of stories they’d be the disappointment faded and the excitement grabbed hold.

What if Lizzie Borden had in fact killed her parents with her trusty ax, but had done so because she’d been forced to? Because those same parents were changing… had changed… into some Lovecraftian nightmare from the deepest fathoms?

“Where do I sign up?” I thought, “and how?!”

Turns out that not only did I sign up – for a sweepstakes to be one of only fifty advance readers to receive a copy of the unedited version of the story – I was one of the lucky winners! (Thanks, Goodreads, ROC and Ms. Priest!)

I dove right in, and from the very beginning was hooked by the style, so very different from her other works but no less compelling for that. The language, while appearing somewhat dated (duh – turn of the century…) transfixed me, and struck me immediately as being from the same linguistic tree that Lovecraft had pulled from, if from very different branches.

The epistolary style was fine at first, with alternating letters, journal entries, and just plain interior thoughts from the various characters moving everything along nicely, but was frustrating as the story gained momentum. (It reminded me of my early readings of The Lord of the Rings, when I couldn’t wait to get back to Aragorn and the gang, and every time a Frodo and Sam chapter would intervene I’d cry, “No! Not yet!”)

I was completely immersed in the story, and in its delivery. It was so like all of the Lovecraft I’ve read in the past, whether it was Lizzie, her sister, or the transforming madman narrating. Totally impressive. I never got the sense that she was merely copying his style, though; otherwise each chapter may have ended with “… and the green-skinned monstrosity reared its bulbous head, and HE SAW THAT IT WAS HER! IT WAS HER!!!” The voice is hers, the story is hers, but it was like he was lurking just over her shoulder, guiding her thoughts and her hands with a nudge here, a tickle there. Like Lovecraft himself, it was uncanny at times how she spoke in his voice while successfully maintaining her own.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable ride, highly recommended, with only one niggling complaint: I didn’t care for the speed or the content of the ending itself. I realize it lends itself well to follow-ups, which I’ll greedily inhale as they appear, but when I turned the last page (something I’ve not done, by the way, in a long while since converting to eReading,) I was left with an unusual feeling. Normally, upon finishing her previous works I’d be sad that it was over, anxious for the next, and ultimately satisfied with that portion of the overall tale. As much as I enjoyed Maplecroft, only two of those states applied for me at its end.