Just In Case, Meg Rosoff

Meg Rosoff’s second book is about a boy called David Case who becomes obsessed with the idea that he is doomed.  He changes his name to Justin as part of a general attempt to disguise himself so that his bad fate cannot find him; he makes friends with a boy called Peter; he has an imaginary dog called Boy; he gets taken up by a rather ruthless photographer girl called Agnes; and a number of things happen to him.

I have just finished this book, and here are the two thoughts I had about it:

1. Meg Rosoff has written a book that is completely entirely unlike her first book.  Except that Justin’s baby brother has childlike wisdom and is psychic, like Daisy’s cousins, this book is just a completely different animal.  Which is quite an impressive thing for Meg Rosoff to have done.

2. This book was not aimed at me.  At first I thought it was going to be, because of all the unfocused but serious anxiety the protagonist was having, but then he kept on not worrying about being crazy.  He didn’t worry about being crazy!  Even when he was sort of worrying about being crazy, he was mostly thinking no, I am not crazy, it’s everybody else who is crazy because they don’t understand.  I don’t understand this.  I worry constantly about being crazy.  And I thought about this the entire time I was reading.  I know people are different, but still I could not make myself believe that somebody who was acting as crazy as Justin could fail to notice that he was crazy.

(I’ve just written crazy so many times that it’s become a random collection of letters.  How good.  I wish crazy could lose all meaning for me permanently and then I’d never have to worry about it anymore.)

Darkmans, Nicola Barker

Mm.  I should know better than this.  When I read a review that says “to suggest that this dazzling, complex novel has anything quite as conventional as a plot would be misleading”, I should know that it just isn’t the book for me.  It just isn’t.  It just can’t be.  I need a plot.  I read books for the plots, and that is why I read.  And I do not tend to like books that mess with paragraphs and punctuation – I know that this is edgy but it always ends up feeling choppy and affected to me.  In this case, choppy and affected and tedious after the first few pages.  What is wrong with normal punctuation, I should like to know?

Unfortunately, I had jury duty day before yesterday, and I was stuck with reading it because although we were waiting in a library (thank you, kindly courts), I didn’t want to get up to look for another book, because I didn’t want anyone to take my seat.  So I did stuff for work until my laptop battery died, and then I worked on some work on paper, and then when I had run out of things I could do without a laptop, I read this book.  Up to page 366.  I didn’t like it that much.  Up with normal punctuation!  Hurrah for punctuation!

The Keep, Jennifer Egan

I have no idea where I read about this book, but I’ve been intending to read it for ages.  I went to the library yesterday, ostensibly just to return Dark Shadows (which I realized once I got there I had left at the apartment), and I got maybe eleven books, which is pretty restrained, and out of all of them, I decided to read The Keep first.

I didn’t like it.

I really thought I must have missed something.

You know how sometimes you’ll watch a commercial, and you just can’t figure it out?  The commercial ends, and you’re staring at the screen wondering what the point of that was, how that could possibly make anyone consider using the advertised product, when it doesn’t even make sense?  And you think and think and think but you can’t figure out what you missed in that commercial that would have made it make sense?  And you start having a hissy, and you’re going on and on about how stupid and pointless that commercial was, and the person next to you is all, Dude, chill out, that’s a totally normal commercial.  And then after you’ve been breathing into a paper bag for a few minutes to help yourself relax, you ask in a quiet but vehement voice WHAT WAS THE POINT OF THAT COMMERCIAL? WHAT DID I MISS? and the person next to you explains it, and no, you were completely right, there wasn’t anything more to that commercial, you weren’t missing anything, it was exactly what it seemed to be.

This is what we call Not aimed at you.  And that was The Keep.  It was just not aimed at me.

It’s about a guy in prison writing about two cousins with a Past working together to restore an old castle with a keep and scary tunnels.  Things are turbulent.  Questions of freedom and imprisonment.  It sounded so good when I read about it, wherever I read about it, and I was very excited that it was in at the library, and all the time it was never aimed at me in the first place.

Thus, no review I give will really be of any value, because the book was just so blatantly not aimed at me.  Everyone else, please feel free to enjoy it.  I was mightily unimpressed by the book generally and by all of the characters particularly, and I didn’t care at all what happened to any of them, and if Danny and Howie and Ray and Holly and Mick and everyone had all just fallen off a cliff, I would not have felt any more fulfilled when I reached the end than I did when I reached the real end with all the stuff that actually happened.

So oh well.

Liszt’s Kiss, by Suzanne Dunlap

Recommended (again) by: http://melissasbookreviews.com

You know, books like these are the reason I am so convinced that I don’t like historical fiction. It’s just not my thing, I assure myself, and then something comes along (like The Book Thief, or Indian Captive, or The Poisonwood Bible, or Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell if that counts) and screws up that whole idea and makes me think, You enormous dumbass, of course you love historical fiction. And then I read something like Liszt’s Kiss and realize I was right the first time.

I guess what I don’t like is historical romances. And I would never, ever have read this, it being a historical romance, if the aforementioned Melissa, who liked The Blue Castle, hadn’t said that Liszt’s Kiss made her want to play the piano again. What a recommendation. And it made me think, well, hey, this is probably less a historical romance than a love song to piano-playing, and I like music, so what the hell.

But I didn’t like it.

Now, of course, a lot of that has to do with the fact that I just don’t like historical romances. They’re not the kind of books I like to read, and they never have been. I don’t care for this whole genre of writing about the thrilling (but fictional) amours of real historical figures; I’m sure there are exceptions to this, but I can’t think of any right now. I like it much better when it’s all fictional characters in a historical setting, and there really is no part of me that gets all excited when there’s a cameo, or a bit part, or a long part, by someone I love In History. I always want to write a letter to the author and say “Is that seriously what you think Oscar Wilde [or whoever] was like?  You have just totally missed the point, you crazy wacko.”

(Which is unfair.  Not in the case of Oscar Wilde, because no one writes about Oscar Wilde right in fiction, but in many other cases.)

Mary Renault being a massive exception that I have just thought of, because I’ve been in love with Fire from Heaven and The Persian Boy for many moons now, and her Alexander is wonderful, and she writes relationships better than anyone else ever (that I can think of right now), so I shouldn’t really go by her. And his affairs are true.

Well, my point is that I wasn’t the target audience for this, so no surprise I didn’t enjoy it, plus I was in Atlanta for my grandfather’s funeral and in no mood to branch out into new genres (the other things I read while I was there were The Nuremberg Interviews and the entire Betsy-Tacy series from start to finish except for Betsy and the Great World because I felt too sad about Betsy and Joe having a fight after all the time it took for them to get together).

Liszt’s Kiss wasn’t badly written or stupid or annoying. Just not my thing at all. My only rational objection, actually, was that – and this may easily have had to do with the fact that my brain was tired – I got really cross when I reached the end and found out the father was good all along. I was like, “Hey! You said he was evil!” because all along the book had carried on being all Intrigue & Deception and then suddenly it went all mystery-novel-surprise-ending on me. Which annoyed me very much when it happened and I was composing scathing comments in my head, but I’ve had time to cool off and I don’t think it was that much of a sudden unfair genre switch as I was thinking when I read it.