A poor showing by Scott Chantler, who is by all accounts (if awards are to be thought of as accounts) something of an accomplished graphic novelist. This graphic novel, Two Generals, reminds me of stereotypes of Can lit as suffering from such an inferiority complex that it feels the need to do everything in a painfully dull and sincere way so as to assure readers that it can in fact be taken quite seriously because it follows as the Rules and Decorum of Serious Fiction. As a result there are panels like the one pictured above where we readers are informed by the (terribly subtle choice of red) colour scheme that something is amiss outside the building. The colour scheme throughout – green is “narrative,” black is “memory” and red is “blood and death” – is so simplistic as to be obnoxious. Similarly, the text of the novel reads as if it were borrowed wholesale from the recorded minutes of the local historical society when the very dullest and driest speaker was at work – e.g. “At 1:30Pm, with the men of the HLI back aboard, the first of the landing craft began to make their way out of the port of southhampton” (56 – and I swear to you, I turned to a page at random) and so lacks any (any) sense of character or a compelling plot. I mean the plot is the INVASION OF NORMANDY and I was bored. And I certainly didn’t care a whit about the death of one of the Generals. Perhaps because I had repeatedly been told that “this would be his last Christmas,” or “not all of them would be alive at the end of the day.” I’m not an uncaring person, but really, I feel an instinctive defense toward indifference and scorn when I’m prompted with such terribly written lines.
Maybe the silver lining here is that in identifying this work as terrible I’ll earn your trust as a reader of Can lit. So while you’d be pressed to find a bigger booster of Canadian history, or a more defensive champion of the triumphs of Can lit, you can know that when I’m praising national works I’m not doing so (just) because I’m a little nationalist, but because often times Canadian authors are busy writing truly remarkable, and often under-recognized, work. This is certainly not the case with Two Generals, which I would hope – despite it’s purported mission of helping us all remember – will quickly be forgotten and not integrated like so many other poorly crafted historical fiction (*cough* Paul Gross’s Psschendaele) into the school curriculum just because the Historica-Dominion Society thinks its a good idea. Oh wow, so turns out I have a lot of hostility toward this particular book. And so as a good Canadian, let me just say: Sorry?
Little to say about Berlin: City of Stones except that I liked it more and more as the book went on, which makes me think that I might need to continue with the series (how long is the series? I don’t know). My initial dissatisfaction was with the wide cast of characters and my apparent inability to keep them all straight, but as the book went on I worked them out, and so, enjoyed it more (definitely the case where the reader is at fault!).
I did enjoy the attention to Germany in the interwar period, as I find too often the historical fiction I read about Germany seems overly preoccupied with glamorizing Hitler, or making it out like Germany’s history was somehow an inevitability. This book nuances the emergence of National Socialism against a wider international history and a focused exploration of particular families and individuals who made decisions that impacted ‘history’ as we know it now.
I had to say the sexy scenes in the ‘Garden of Eden’ were just weird.
After a little meltdown last night about my rate of reading in the last month and a half, M. reminded me that 10-10-12 is not a race or competition, but is an exercise in me loving to read. And someone how that pep talk (that wasn’t, I don’t think, intended as a pep talk) gave me the zip I needed to finish off Un Lun Dun, a mostly terrific young adult fiction book with illustrations (which category will it fall into?).
China Mieville might be better known for his adult fantasy novels (or so my friends who read fantasy tell me), but Un Lun Dun (pronounced UnLondon) is deserving of its own credit and following. The book follows our un-hero, Deeba, as she finds herself in the world of UnLondon – a shadow city separated from London, but not necessarily different from the ‘real’ city in terms of xenophobia, class conflict, and most prominently, environmental concerns.
After several – unecessary – chapters about Deeba’s friend the “Shazzy” (I say unnecessary because they do not add to Deeba’s characterization and rather than advancing the plot, these chapters stall its development. What these chapters do offer is a space to sketch the setting of UnLondon in some detail, a “setting up” that might easily take place on Deeba’s second visit) Deeba finds herself tasked with battling “The Smog,” a malicious force bent on destroying both UnLondon and London by consuming it with fire. This (somewhat?) allegorical menace allows readers of any age to connect the consumption patterns of the modern city with environmental toxins and pollutants and makes a vigorous case for “nothing” as the solution to this problem. The solution of “nothing,” is to me a poignant conclusion for the novel as it advocates at one at the same time that “nothing” can be done to solve the problem/character of the Smog, and yet simultaneously suggests that it is by doing less, or by doing “nothing,” that we might combat it.
In any case, the climatic battle between Deeba and the Smog is by far the most engaging section of the book. The rest of the novel is something of a trudging affair, a journey that is not all about the journey and rather all about the expected climatic-awesomeness of the destination. That the climax did meet my expectations of awesomeness was pleasant, but I’m not convinced the slog to get there was worth it.
War correspondent Joe Sacco’s graphic novel, Gorazde, is difficult to read. It reports on the experiences of Edin, a Bosnian Muslim, during the siege of Gorazde and describes in text and image the atrocities committed during the siege of the city and of neighboring towns, and of the violence of diplomatic decisions that favoured political expediency over human life and well-being.
As I read the book (in a single sitting, it’s entirely captivating) I asked myself what made the graphic form so effective in expressing the individual and collective suffering as compared to text-based reportage. I’m not sure I have a good answer (again, see my comments on my new-to-graphic-novels) though I suspect that it has to do with pacing. Sacco does well to slow down the pace of reading in scenes of high tension and great suffering, and in so doing required this reader to pay – uncomfortable – attention to scenes I might have more readily surged through in a text-based version. With little choice but to read snippets of sentences set against black-and-white images of intense action, the graphic version demanded my investment in each character, and in each scene that I certainly wanted to avoid reading about.
While I found Sacco entirely effective in using graphics to describe and pace his narrative, I also admired the text of the book, which did an admirable job contextualizing the conflict, while also attending to individual stories and experiences (one two-page spread, in particular, featured a compendium of “interviews” which aptly captured shared and different responses to the return of Serbs to Gorazde).
I’m not sure I appreciated Sacco’s sometime self-congratulatory digs at other reporters who “only” came to Gorazde for one or two days, while he spent considerable time in the city and made multiple trips. I appreciate the difference such reporting experiences must effect in the kind and quality of writing produced, however, I nevertheless felt these comments were less effective in attacking the West’s apparent disinterest in the suffering and death of others (as was perhaps the intent) than they were in conveying Sacco’s confidence in his reportage expertise. While many of Sacco’s self-reflexive comments approach the difficult question of why he should be able to leave and return to safety with little trouble, I do not think the text goes far enough in interviewing the reporter himself.
That said, it’s an incredibly compelling story and one, oddly I suppose, made better still by the difficulty of its reading.