Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Plotted pants



Yet to realise I had been stood up, I recently found myself in the adult fiction department of an unfamiliar library with a very disgruntled toddler who was somewhat traumatised by the music and rhyme going on in the children's department. As my eyes sought escape I thought I had found it in the covers of Hari Kunzru's The Impressionist and Transmission.

The Impressionist was Kunzru's debut. I had been meaning to read his fiction for a long time - always on the list but never quite pressing enough to lure me to buy it - thank you library, you saved me from a fate worse than waste. I began reading deliciously ignorant as a ripe virgin only to feel like snatching back my cherry on page 24. Yes, shock horror, I got that far! Having avoided any reviews and deliberately skipping the blurb I threw myself blindly over the precipice that is to absorb oneself in fiction and cried "I believe"....but this book is no smooth Disney production and the fates always know when you're lying and I landed in a pile of plot. I did read on substantially further - only because I wanted to put off starting the second book as long as possible - but my impatience got the better of me. I played guess the plot then read the blurb on the inside cover and, guess what, I won. Erm, what? Well, nothing. Oh, but that's not true, I won some time back! Always an upside!

What I felt was that there was a very good book in there which had been completely ruined for the sake of sensationalism and cramming in as much plot as possible. It began slowly - very enjoyably - well written and thoughtful and, most importantly, it made me think. However, it was as if the whole novel changed tact at the very early first sex scene and then it was little more than continuous tumbling from there on in. It was the same feeling I got when I read The Kite Runner which was so moving until it turned into an anti-Taliban action yarn and destroyed, for me, every subtle strength it had carefully built up to. What I did think, though, was what a ripping film it would make - ha! But it did make me see where my own fiction may be wandering astray and it's given me lots to get my teeth into this weekend.

Alas, undeterred (that bit's not true) I wanged it aside (neither is that bit - it is a library book - I placed it carefully and considerately back in the fabric library bought "save the planet" bag...that's also a lie...I put it in a carrier bag by the front door, lest I should forget to take it back! Far, far away from my bookshelves to prevent anyone mistaking it for one of my chosen ones!) and so began the reading of Transmission.

Which I'll tell you all about next time!

37 comments:

Thomas Taylor said...

You're one scary reviewer, Rachel:)

Rachel Fenton said...

You may have noticed I generally avoid reviewing, Thomas! There were things I liked about it, too, but we have the cultural section of newspapers for unbiased reviews, don't we ;)

Thomas Taylor said...

Ha! And I've just spotted 'Plotted Pants'. Very funny.

There's nothing worse than feeling betrayed by a writer a few chapters in and wanting the time back. Except perhaps reaching the end and discovering it was all a dream.

Rachel Fenton said...

Now that you mention the "all a dream"..I remember being forewarned by a primary school teacher of what not to put in a story! The dream "twist" and starting every sentence with "then"...thing is, The Impressionist is a brilliant book for demonstrating hundreds of ways of beginning a sentence with "then" without actually using it...eg..(not actual words) Protag was standing looking rather literary. And he continued to look literary for some time. When the rain washed him away he was rather startled. And in the cave he was more surprised than he thought possible for such a short time having elapsed between him standing in his literary panorama to being at the feet of an exotic beauty in a non-stereotypical and fully in posession of her feminine power way. In the next scene, because I cannot think of a way to pad or link in an interesting way, another highly unlikely but hooking the reader in with some nudity way, event happens. This all ties in nicely with what is about to happen in three pages but I forget all about it after that and the characters you have just invested twenty five pages of your life in are now dead...as is this book...

Perhaps I should give up the dream of reviewing for the Guardian?

Maybe I should do all reviews in the potted read way...

Glad you enjoyed!

Sorry Mr Kunzru...you look a bit like my husbabnd but it wasn't enough...

Rachel Fenton said...

or even my husband!

Thomas Taylor said...

Wow! I thought we were suppose to kill our darlings, not fill whole books with them.

Having said that, I must try standing around looking rather literary one of these days. I might need a baby sitter though.

Lori said...

OK. So I am never touching that book. Or I just might because it seems to have made you furious, which is a passion after all.
What I don't understand is how can you now still go ahead with the second book?

Rachel Fenton said...

Hehe - Lori, I've been asking myself that same question! I take each book on its own merits. Writing a book does not make the book - half the story is what the reader brings to the page. Mr Kunzru's first book was not what I expected - that tells me more about my expectations than about the quality of his writing. (See, I can do diplomacy, too!)

I'll put it another way - just because Kunzru is, in passing, a tad similar to HOM, does not a husband of mine make him :)

If you like books which reference other books and imitate them in a take it to the next level sort of way, and if you like tales of Empire and anything Kiplingesque, you'll love it.

Lovely to see you here again, hope you are well!

Annotated Margins said...

A very creative review! I loved it, and really dug the line, "fate worse than waste."

I've been disappointed in the last two books that I read... great stories in the beginning, and even after the middle, but the endings seemed contrived and hustled. I think I dislike that more than a book that takes off in an unexpected direction, because if I feel cheated I feel like I just wasted a lot of time.

Better to lose one's virginity for the right book. Unfortunately, it's always too late when we discover we're with the wrong date.

Rachel Fenton said...

Reading any novel is an investment, Mike, I agree and I know I have done a similar race through the plot to the end with the novel I'm working on right now - a case of excitement at seeing the finishing line in sight - but now I have experienced reading that I shall put it to rights! Personally, I would happily give up plot twists and turns for a good piece of thoughtful and thought provoking writing! I get bored with big bangs and fireworks..thanks for taking the time to read this and I'm glad it wasn't a waste of your time :)

Donna Hosie said...

I think you may be the first person I've come across who didn't enjoy The Kite Runner.

Your reviews are good, even if they are brutal. You should do more of them.

Rachel Fenton said...

Donna - I did enjoy The Kite Runner immensely - right up until the Arian Taliban psychopath paedophile - now see, alongside the other characters who were carefully developed and had life breathed into them, that one - and the events in the last third of the book - I just found incredulous. I am very fussy about my reading, though. Should maybe stick to text books and essays :)

I'll do a few more reviews and try to be more balanced, then :) Glad you enjoyed this one. Thanks for reading.

Dave King said...

What a frustrating read for you - though you wove an excellent review from it. I'm none too sure about how unbiased the reviews in the cultural sections of our papers are, though!

Golden West said...

I thought you'd get a kick out of what I read today: "99.9% of writing is figuring out how to make it better later".

Rachel Fenton said...

Hi, Dave - I think you're right about the papers. I was feeling like I had been too harsh after I posted this so I had a snout around the tinternet for other reviews and I think mine was mild by comparison to some! I try to avoid reviews of books that I think I will like to be sure that any opinions I have are my own. Thank you for reading.

Ha! Thanks, Golden West - that's a brilliant quote - the hard part is figuring out how to apply what I've discovered to my own writing!

It's always easier to write about things we don't like, though, I find. Must balance this out by writing about some books I do like...now, where are they? Hehe!

Kass said...

I'm pretty sure I like your review more than I would like the book.

"I began reading deliciously ignorant as a ripe virgin only to feel like snatching back my cherry on page 24."

You slay me....in a good way.

LimesNow said...

Rachel, "Plotted Pants" has been tugging at my eyes for a couple of days, but I've been traveling and I'm behind on everything, including reading the blogs. This morning I took my opportunity! The jury is still out whether I'll crack the covers of either of the Hari Kunzru books, but I thought to say this: Your use of language in this post grabbed my attention in a way that I sometimes grab yours over at my blog.

Of special note - "a fate worse than waste" and "deliciously ignorant as a ripe virgin" made me grin. Throwing yourself over the precipice and crying out "I believe" made me laugh out loud! "The fates always know when you're lying" is VERY good stuff. You reminded me of what a very fine wordsmith you are, and FUNNY. Thanks for the morning break with my coffee!

Rachel Fenton said...

Kass - I've been having worried moments wondering if Kunzru has his name on google alert and is, at this very moment, plotting ways to have me linguistically annihilated! Hehe! Glad you liked that comment, though :) Thanks for reading.



Les - don't ever feel pressured to try to read/comment - would much rather you just had a jolly nice cuppa and feet up!


I think there are many people who do serious reviews and do them well but my aim in this was no more than sharing what I'm up to and giving a few first impressions in a light hearted way. So I'm pleased you got a giggle! And thank you for reading!

patteran said...

'The Kite Runner' has just slipped from next-on-the-pile-to-read to close-to-the-bottom-if-at-all!

Rachel Fenton said...

Up until that point (the predictable and going over the top action movie style) the Kite Runner is a very moving and gripping story. I cried bucket loads reading it and I wished it had stayed in understated yet powerful tone rather than what I assume was hyping it up for a US market. Read it, though, and decide for yourself, Dick. Thanks for reading.

BarbaraS said...

Oh I am so there with you when you end up guessing the plot, reading the blurb and then the last pages to confirm your worst suspicions. It drives me barmy. On another subject, have you tried The Infinities by John Banville? It's good and avoids the plot catastrophe - and is much better than his Booker winner, The Sea.

Rachel Fenton said...

Barbara, there's a half price sale on at the bookshop - I hope to have The Infinities by my return! Thanks for that!

Titus said...

Rachel, you haven't been popping up on my dashboard!
Brilliant reviewing, and looking forward to the next one...

Rachel Fenton said...

Oh, Titus - don't worry about that - no loyalty card points for dropping by this blog! I cannot be arsed with tit for tat blogging. Politeness to a point but then, well, life gets in the way and time is always ticking and tugging...as and when my gal, as and when! Hope you are well and thanks for popping by now :)

Terresa said...

Loved reading your review in this post! I hate it when I guess the plot and it feels cookie cutter, like a dime store novel in sheep's clothing. No reader likes to feel hoodwinked.

I hope Transmission is a better read.

PS: Here on Kass's suggestion. Glad I stopped by.

Anil P said...

I haven't read Kunzru, but am inclined to agree with you on The Kite Runner.

For much of the book I read on, drawn by the outstretched finger leading me on, until about say, how shall I say it, 70% of the book.

Then it got convoluted, the pace changed as if the author, knowing the finish line was near, had to get the drama completed before the curtains fell for good.

The plot twisted, and twisted even more in an effort to find the original twist to squirm up to the surface.

A disappointment, for what it had promised much of the way. The kite had run free of the author!

Rachel Fenton said...

Hi, Terresa - good to have you here!

Transmission is one missed signal away form being lost in space...alas...to think what I could have read in the thirty seconds it took me to surmise what that was all about..hehe..only joking (sort of)..review coming soon.

Thanks for reading!


Hi, Anil - that's exactly it...I felt so cross with the author - and the character everyone cared about was already dead at that point but it was as if the author was on a word count order - write another sixty pages or we won't sell the film rights!

Well surmised! Thanks for that, and for reading!

joehebden said...

I hope you will be inspired to avoid these traps in your own writing.

Rachel Fenton said...

Trouble is, Joe, I'm rubbish at spotting clangers in my own stuff but, hopefully, reading "good" literature or at least literature I aspire to, will rub off on me and keep my game up. I don't tend to read on if a book is failing me.

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Hope these work! Have a great day :)

Rachel Fenton said...

Cool - thanks, GM!

Penny said...

Well, the covers are rather nice!

Rachel Fenton said...

They are that, Penny, and I should play up the book's strengths!

Thanks - I can always count on you for some words of positivity!

Thank you for dropping by :)

Kass said...

Rachel - commenting back on your comment on my blog. Actually, I'm so tired lately taking care of mom, I do fall asleep after reading two sentences of Jim's book. It's a good read, but it will probably take me months to read it.

Rachel Fenton said...

Hey, Kass, I don't know how you keep putting one foot in front of the other, let alone blogging! I'm so tired I wrote a lengthy comment on your most recent post and then closed the screen before publishing it! And I only have two kids (3 if you count husband!). You're doing a brilliant job. x

Tania Hershman said...

Rachel, this is a great review - and one that is helpful in explaining to me why I keep starting The Impressionist and being unable to continue... and why I got half way through the Kite Runner and really had to stop!

Rachel Fenton said...

Ha, Tania - it's that "something's not quite right about this but I can't put my finger on it" sort of book! Thanks!