Fool on the Hill, Matt Ruff

I have said before that I love both Martin Millar and Douglas Coupland quite a lot.  Well, Matt Ruff’s Fool on the Hill is like if Martin Millar and Douglas Coupland had a love child, and Douglas Coupland  raised the kid because Martin Millar lived too far away, but the kid  grew up reading Martin Millar’s books obsessively, and then the kid  went to Cornell for college.  I feel like that sequence of events  could have produced Fool on the Hill.

Fool on the Hill is a story about Cornell University (ever heard of it?), if Cornell University had fairies and sword-fighting rats.  There are oodles of characters, and they are all amusing, and the different sets of characters eventually come together – much like in Lonely Werewolf Girl, so in case you are thinking that I’m only making the Martin Millar comparison because of the  fairies I AM NOT.  There’s Stephen George, a writer; his muse,  Calliope, who comes and goes; the beautiful Aurora Borealis Smith and her revolutionary father; Luther and Blackjack, a dog and cat on a quest to find Heaven; Ragnarok and the Bohemians, with an unimpeachable sense of justice; a wicked fraternity that it took me an embarrassingly long time to realize didn’t actually exist; and Cornell fairies prepared to fight a war for Cornell against a foe they all thought to be dead.

I won this book from Nicki at Fyrefly’s Book Blog (thank you!), and she most brilliantly sent me along a map of Cornell to go with it, with relevant locations circled in aquamarine-colored pen.  Possibly the reason I read it so gradually is that I was constantly putting the book down and inspecting the map to orient myself on the campus.  That, and the fact that it was on my bedside table.  For some reason I never fetch books from my bedside table and curl up with them downstairs to finish them. Once they are on my bedside table they are only going to get read for about twenty minutes each night before I fall asleep.

But that is not to say that I didn’t enjoy it, because I really did.  I was making it last by reading it slowly.  It’s such a lark that it’s fun to make it last: how there’s a “writer” called Mr. Sunshine inventing the whole story as they go, and that makes it possible for Matt Ruff to toss in little remarks about antiheroes and dei ex machinis (oo, useful Latin there).  I loved Jinsei & Ragnarok – because Matt Ruff is right, you need a hero that’s not all sweetness and light sometimes – and the whole thing of Tolkien House and their Lothlorien.  Fun.  Read it!  (But you can’t have my copy.  I’m greedy and I’m keeping it.)

(Maybe the ending is a little rushed.  But it is so much fun that I don’t mind.)

Link me if you reviewed it too!

Milk, Sulphate, and Alby Starvation, Martin Millar

I hope Martin Millar never reads this blog post and decides that I’m a jerk, but I’m going to go ahead and say it anyway: Milk, Sulphate, and Alby Starvation is his first book and you can tell.  I wish you could not tell – I love it when I can’t tell – but you could tell.  You could also tell it was absolutely definitely Martin Millar and nobody else whatsoever, what with all the shifts in point of view, and the brief, brief little snippets of action at one time.  (My short attention span thanks you for that, Martin Millar.)  Like all of Martin Millar’s books, Milk, Sulphate, and Alby Starvation was amusing and enjoyable and a bit frenetic.  It was just a smidge rougher than his others.  Lux the Poet was the same.  I still liked them both.

Threshold, Caitlin R. Kiernan

I got this book out of the library because I put Martin Millar’s name into the Literature-Map website, and Caitlin Kiernan’s name was close to his.  This is one of those things that I should know straight away isn’t going to work out for me: every time I do this, I find that the closest authors to the name I’ve entered are people I either haven’t heard of or don’t like, whereas the names of authors I do like are farther out to the perimeter.  Douglas Coupland, Neil Gaiman, T.S. Eliot, and Alexandre Dumas are all well out at the borders of Martin Millar.

Threshold is about an unhappy geologist called Chance, and her unhappy psychic alcoholic ex-boyfriend, Deacon; and how an albino teenager called Dancy finds them and asks for their help fighting monsters.  They are not really into this because they are busy being unhappy, but eventually the evidence that monsters are happening becomes overwhelming.

I do not like scary stories.  I don’t need films and books to scare me – I already scare me plenty.  It’s not the fantasy parts of this book that frighten me, it’s the real-life parts.  (That is almost always the case.)  I couldn’t decide how I felt about the writing in the book either.  It’s nonlinear, and a tiny bit like Rumer Godden (whom I love), and there are bits that you aren’t sure at first whether it’s dreams or really happening.  And there are lines I really liked, like “arguing in smaller and smaller circles, and Chance always wrong, always the one who isn’t making sense”, and “the truth and her mind push each other away, opposing magnetic poles”.

Possibly because the book was frightening, I never really engaged with any of the characters.  I actively didn’t engage with them, which is my fault, not the book’s, but I was feeling jumpy when I was reading it, and I didn’t want to fall too far in.  (Like I do when I read The Scarlet Pimpernel, for example.)  The end was strange and unresolved, and I feel very ambivalent about this book, and I can’t decide if I want to read more of Caitlin Kiernan’s books.

Suzy, Led Zeppelin, and Me, Martin Millar

Yes, yes, I finally caved and read this.  I have been delaying gratification for quite a while, but I just couldn’t resist the siren call of this book anymore.  It has been sitting so alluringly on my bookshelf.  Last night I was reading The Sixteen Pleasures and suddenly it became clear to me that if I went another second without reading Suzy, Led Zeppelin, and Me, my brain would explode.  (Nothing against The Sixteen Pleasures, which I’m enjoying.)  I am beginning to entertain the notion that my great dislike of everything else I’ve been reading is all to do with the fact that I really wanted to be reading Suzy, Led Zeppelin, and Me.  I mean really reading it, not reading two pages and then putting it away, delaying gratification some more.

Anyway, it was definitely worth the wait.  What a totally excellent book.  Martin Millar is brilliant.  It’s weird because last year around this same time I didn’t care about Martin Millar at all, and now when people ask me who my favorite author is, Martin Millar springs immediately to mind.  I wish Neil Gaiman and Martin Millar had a Time-Turner like Hermione and they could sit around and turn back time all over the place, and write dozens and dozens of books for me to read.  That would be great.  Right now there are only, like, four?  five? books of Martin Millar’s that I haven’t read already.  Four or five is an extremely small number.  I have to dole them out to myself slowly, one by one, over several years, to prolong my enjoyment.

(But not the sequel to Lonely Werewolf Girl.  When that comes out I’m going to buy it straight away.)

Suzy, Led Zeppelin, and Me is all about a young Martin Millar being in love with a girl called Suzy, and going to see Led Zeppelin play a gig in Glasgow, and then talking about it many years later with his friend Manx.  I liked it a lot.  (Spoilers) He mentioned Buffy and the geeky girl met Led Zeppelin and got advice about life from Robert Plant.  How good!  An altogether totally pleasing book.  And I didn’t even read the end before I got there.  (Not the right kind of book for that to be necessary.)  This book was funny and also poignant.  I like the word poignant.  I never get to use it enough.

I’m a bit sad that I’ve read this book and now I haven’t got any other Martin Millar books to read.  Our library only has books I’ve already read.  But at least now I’m not yearning for it tragically, and hopefully I will be able to enjoy other books.

Or maybe I will just watch Doctor Who a lot, as it’s Christmas and I’m trying to make my big sister who is just home from law school learn to love Doctor Who like my younger sister and I do.  This would be more successful if the TV at my parents’ house were in the living room, not the bedroom, because the living room is more comfortable to watch films in.  I am pleased about starting the fourth series, as I got tired of Martha not being fierce enough (she was always much cooler when the Doctor wasn’t around), and Donna looks like she will be clever and make the Doctor laugh but not put up with any crap.

P.S. Just can’t say this enough.  Thank you, Neil Gaiman, for writing an introduction to The Good Fairies of New York and making me decide to read it.  Also, thank you,, for bringing up The Good Fairies of New York when I did a search for Neil Gaiman, because otherwise I wouldn’t have known it existed.

Lux the Poet, Martin Millar

I am afraid that if I keep saying sweet to describe Martin Millar’s book, it will seem to be that I am damning him with faint praise and denying that he has any edge. Because his books contain themes about racism and drugs and sex and whatnot, and these aren’t things generally associated with books that are sweet. On the other hand, if Martin Millar didn’t want his books to be described as sweet, he should not have written such extremely sweet books. So it’s not really my fault.

Lux the Poet is about several things. It’s about a poet called Lux who is incredibly vain, and to whom nobody will listen when he tries to recite his poems. He is in love with a girl called Pearl, who has made a film and is (sort of) dating a girl called Nicky, who is manic-depressive and has irritated the vengeful leaders of a company that was trying to breed genius babies, by stealing their genetic programme so they can’t carry on with their plan to breed genius babies. Also, there is a fallen heavenly person called Kalia who has to do a million good deeds before she can get back into heaven, and she continues to be reincarnated until she has done this. Her plans are being thwarted by wicked Yasmin, who in this incarnation is hunting down Nicky and Pearl to get the genetic programme back. Um, and also Lux is being hunted down by an angry thrash metal band called the Jane Austen Mercenaries, because he stole their demo tape which is now wanted by a record company. Also there is a book reviewer trying to get back a manuscript he left with Nicky. Oh, and also – I forgot this until just now, which you wouldn’t think I would have because it’s the whole point – they are all in Brixton during the reportedly very unpleasant Brixton riot in 1981. It was a great big riot, and it contained racial tension. Apparently. I wasn’t born yet. Anyway there is a big riot and everybody is going round and round Brixton trying not to get burned up or intimidated or arrested.

And it was very sweet. Mostly. Apart from a wee bit in which this woman got raped – but because that’s upsetting to me I’ve decided to believe Nicky was hallucinating it, which, hey, she may have been – and apart from how occasionally some unpleasant people used a word I don’t use and really, really, really don’t like (it’s a racial slur – you know what I mean). It is one of very few words I actively dislike. In fact it is my least favorite word. If I ever get interviewed by James Lipton – which is unlikely – I will tell him this word is my least favorite word. Ugh, I really hate it. I decline to write it because I dislike it so much.

I read Lux the Poet in order to make myself not dislike Suzy, Led Zeppelin, and Me. In case I haven’t said so, I am greatly looking forward to reading Suzy, Led Zeppelin, and Me, but I’m holding off until I have finished reading my new Markus Zusak books (which are short), and the two Douglas Coupland books I have out of the library, and The Vampire Tapestry. It’s all about delaying gratification. However, I have noticed a trend with new authors where I really like the first two books I read by them and then the third one is a letdown (this has held true with Martine Leavitt and Salman Rushdie and Mary Renault and probably others but I can’t remember), and since I already bought Suzy, Led Zeppelin, and Me, I didn’t want it to be a letdown. So I read Lux the Poet as my number three Martin Millar book. It wasn’t a letdown but it was less good than the first two books I read by him, and therefore I am now safe to read Suzy, Led Zeppelin, and Me.

Anyway, Lux the Poet was good. Except too short. I can envision a world in which one would find Martin Millar’s writing to be choppy and disjointed, but I’m glad to report I don’t live in that unfriendly depressing world. I liked this book, and I especially liked Kalia, who was the fallen heavenly creature trying to find her way home. I liked it how Lux was very okay with discovering this about Kalia, and I liked it that major problems throughout the book sometimes got resolved suddenly and easily (it’s so relaxing). Lux reminded me a bit of the poet ghost in The Graveyard Book, one of several characters in The Graveyard Book that there was not enough of, so it was quite convenient to have read this straight away after reading The Graveyard Book. I’m sad I have to return Lux the Poet to the library. Maybe I will steal it.

I’m sort of sad that Lonely Werewolf Girl was only released last year. It appears to take four or five years for Martin Millar to write a new book, which is fine but sad for me because now I have to wait until 2012 for his next one. 2012. That is a long time away, and it seems like a very improbable year to me. 2012. Like 2012 could ever happen.

Lonely Werewolf Girl, Martin Millar

I was very skeptical about Martin Millar. I heard about Martin Millar from Neil Gaiman’s website, because he (Neil Gaiman) wrote an introduction to The Good Fairies of New York extolling its manifold virtues, so I got it from the library because I liked the title. I didn’t expect much out of it. The last time I trusted Neil Gaiman’s opinion, I read four books by Jonathan Carroll and hated them all desperately. (Yes, the obvious question is why did I read four of them then, and the answer is, I’ve no idea, it was long ago and I can’t remember. I think I hoped that the previous ones were just flukes and I would soon come to love Jonathan Carroll – like when I first read Diana Wynne Jones’s books and hated them – but that never happened.) So I didn’t think I was going to like Martin Millar either.

But I was so, so wrong. Martin Millar is a delight. I want to give Martin Millar a hug because his books please me so much. The Good Fairies of New York was charming, and they found a flower.

Lonely Werewolf Girl is better, however. Which is partly because it’s longer, so there’s more of it to charm me, and partly because all the threads of subplots come together really nicely at the end. It’s about a werewolf girl called Kalix who is very, very dysfunctional and the youngest daughter of the royal MacLannach werewolf family, and all the dreadful and exciting things that befall her family. There are many subplots. They dovetail beautifully at the twins’ gig when the werewolves have a great big knock-down-drag-out. It’s all very impressive.

The thing about Martin Millar’s books, at least the two that I’ve read – which is definitely not enough to qualify me to state this opinion about Martin Millar’s books generally, but is also not my fault because I live in a city in the Deep South where despite the surprisingly wonderful public library system there is a dearth of contemporary British fiction – is that he is very fond of that traditional British humor mechanism in which everything goes spectacularly to hell. In fact I read a study one time that said that British people love sitcoms like Fawlty Towers where things start from a point of order and then descend into chaos, whereas American people – something else that I don’t remember. Anyway, this kind of humor sometimes gives me stressful feelings, but with Martin Millar, I have faith that everything will iron itself out.

Besides which there is just something very sweet about this book. And Good Fairies. They make me want to go enjoy other sweet things, like the Brownings’ letters to each other, and that episode of Angel where he first has little baby Connor and defends him from the vampire cults, and that episode of Buffy where she gets an award at her prom and it always makes me cry, and that book we had when I was little about the persnickety old lady who learns valuable lessons about love from a little Christmas angel. Which, um, may not have been what Martin Millar intended when he wrote it.

Edit to add: I discovered Martin Millar’s blog, and it sounds like he does a lot of reveling in the joy that is Buffy. (Like me.) A man after my own heart.