Friday, October 08, 2010
Some books I've been reading
At the beginning of this academic year, my boss started a meeting by laying books out all over the room. I was intrigued straight away and offered my opinion on this and that book to my colleagues. I spied a great big thick one and scuttled over to a friend asking her if that was? It was wasn't it.
The next surprise came when the boss said that each one of us was being given a book. She had chosen them carefully and she hoped we would like our gifts. And boy was I pleased when I realised that The Invention of Hugo Cabret was for me. I clutched it to my chest, stroked its cover. I flicked through it on the way home. I wondered when I would finish The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt. For weeks Hugo sat staring at me from his spot on the bookshelf, while I ate lunch or sat at the table.
And finally a few weeks ago, I started reading. Brian Selznick has created something a little different in The Invention of Hugo Cabret. The book starts with a close up of the moon, and then pans away to reveal Paris, a station and eventually our central character Hugo. Through carefully drawn illustrations we are taken on a journey through Hugo's world and introduced to some characters, then the story begins. There is plenty of intrigue, chases, secrets and suspense, but I kept waiting for Hugo to appear on the page.
He is there, the book is all about him, but something kept nagging at me as I ploughed on through the book. Something was missing. First of all I thought that perhaps the pictures interrupted the flow of the narrative, but I knew that couldn't quite be it. I've been a fan of graphic novels for many years and having pictures instead of words never bothered me, sometimes the artists did, but Selznick's artwork cannot be faulted.
As Part I finished it began to get a bit clearer and by the almost final scenes I knew what it was. Hugo was never really invented. He never came alive for me on the page. The book contained all the ingredients that I love in books, except one; a character who I cared about.
The Children's Book, which incidentally is not really a children's book, is full of characters you care about. There is a line near the beginning where Tom ponders on whether he will like another character Julian, and you the reader end up feeling the same way. Byatt draws us into the lives of all these characters, so that by the end I was almost angry with her for finishing her book the way she did. I wandered around a bit shell-shocked and then just shocked at what she had achieved.
Both books were written by people who had become passionate about their subejct. Selznick's love of cinema is echoed in the way he has framed the text and his use of illustration, but by the end of the book, it's more about the subject he loves than the characters. Byatt has pages of coldly written matter of fact passages that place the reader in history, but when she writes about pottery and the making of pots it is through her characters eyes, their senses, their longing, so that you the reader can almost feel the pot being shaped beneath your fingers that hold the book.
I'm now reading Her Fearful Symmetry and one line made me laugh out loud last night. Before I closed the book I thought about writing a line like that and I realised I had. I'd written a story full of one liners with no story, but I'll get back to it one day because it keeps coming back. Then I thought of crafting a book the way Byatt had and decided that perhaps I should concentrate on draft two of a book first. Then I thought about characters, and now I know I really should be getting on with today's homework from writing.com in preparation for NaNoWriMo!
Images from the internet