No, dear readers, I’m not talking whether to continue writing this blog or not. I’m talking about a book I checked out of the library last week.
If you’ve read this blog for a while, you’ve probably gathered I’m a fast reader. I actually have to force myself to slow down and enjoy books sometimes, as opposed to completely inhaling them. That’s why it’s surprising that this book, The Madagaskar Plan by Guy Saville, is taking me forever to get through. I’ve had it for a whole five days now and I’m maybe a third of the way through, if that.
It’s odd because though I don’t dislike the book, I also don’t love it. I feel completely neutral about it. It is an odd book because though it’s supposed to be a sequel to The Afrika Reich, which I also read, you don’t really need to have read the first book to read this book.
I have yet to decide whether to finish it or not. I keep reading bits and pieces of it sporadically. By the time I do decide whether it’s worth finishing, I’ll probably already be done and there won’t be a decision to make then.
I just finished rereading Susana Clarke’s excellent fantasy novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, last night. I’ve read it a couple of times before, but it’s been a while and I figured a sufficient amount of time had passed since I last read it so that I could justify reading it again. I’m happy to report it was as good this time as it was previous times. Unfortunately, there have been times when I reread a book and did not enjoy it as much during the rereading as I did the first time I read it. But that’s beside the point. If you like fantasy and haven’t read Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, I’d highly recommend you do it. It’s a regular adult (as opposed to young adult) book and it’s very good. Mild spoilers may follow.
Who is the protagonist in this book? When I first read it, I assumed Mr Norrell because he appears first in the book out of the two title characters. Then I thought Jonathan Strange because his actions drive so much of the plot, especially towards the end. Then I thought maybe both of them are protagonists. After reading the book this time, I’ve been thinking: what if neither of those characters is the protagonist? What if John Uskglass, the Raven King, a character who isn’t technically alive during the years this book takes place, is actually the protagonist? This may be a strange idea, but it’s not one I’ve considered before.
Within the context of the story, the Raven King ruled Northern England for three hundred years, many centuries before book takes place in the early nineteenth century. He is a divisive figure all throughout the book, even though he is long gone and the north of England is under the rule of King George III’s regent, as it was in reality.
Getting back to the two title characters, in a way this book is as much about their relationship as it is about them. They are great friends due to their shared interest in doing magic. In fact, their friendship reminded me a lot of another famous literary friendship: that of Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin in Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series. The Aubrey-Maturin series is not fantastical in the slightest—if anything, it errs on the side of extreme realism, as the author did extensive research and put in so many arcane details that the books are boring to read at times—but I still can see some similarities between these books.
(As an aside, I read all twenty of the Aubrey-Maturin series years ago. It took about two or three years and it was rough going sometimes. The books are long and dense and did I mention there are twenty of them? There’s actually an incomplete twenty-first one as well, but the library didn’t have a copy, so I haven’t read that one. Honestly, I don’t know if I have a desire to read it at this point.)
The ending of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is a bit… strange. (Forgive the pun. I couldn’t resist.) On one hand, it ends on a positive note because many good changes have occurred in England. On another, the fate of the title characters is a bit ambiguous and could be interpreted in a very sad way. My interpretation of the ending has changed over the years. I used to think one thing happened, but now I think something else happened.
Before you can ask: no, I have not watched the new Amazon series, The Man in the High Castle. (I’ve actually never watched any of the Amazon TV series, which will probably make some readers feel like this horrified emoji.)
But never mind that. I’m still debating whether I should watch The Man in the High Castle. I have so many mixed feelings about it, mainly centered on the idea that they may not have adapted it just right. If you’re an avid reader, you know what I mean. There are so many poorly done book adaptations out there. Not a single one of the Harry Potter movies even approached the amazingness of the books, if you ask me. I’m sure there are a ton of other mediocre adaptations out there that I can’t think of right now. The Man in the High Castle is such a good book that I don’t know if it would be possible to adapt it to my satisfaction.
For those of you unfamiliar with the book, Philip K. Dick wrote it in 1962. It’s set in an alternate universe fifteen years after the Axis powers won World War II and the United States is now occupied by German and Japanese forces. The book follows a collection of characters who don’t all know each other, but are influenced by the I Ching and/or a novel called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. This book introduced me to the alternate history genre (it’s now one of my favorites and I’m planning to write an alternate history series at some point) and I love it. Other people loved it, too, as it won the 1963 Hugo Award for Best Novel.
I’ve seen the trailer for the series and I can already spot some changes they’ve made. Unnecessary changes, if you ask me. Still, the series looks really good and I’m very tempted to watch it…