One of the most difficult aspects to reviewing books is considering what the author is trying to do, or, more importantly, what the readers will expect from this book.
I just finished Bringing Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. Before writing the review, I went back to read my review of the first book in her trilogy, Wolf Hall. In that review I stated that I like to test historical fiction by imagining the names of the historical figures being replaced with other names to see if the book works on its own. I'm not sure that's fair. When the subject is someone famous readers bring knowledge to the process and a good writer should consider that knowledge.
It's all right to make things up. Hilary Mantel's books are mostly dialogue. She can't know what was actually said, so the real test is how believable the story is. Some things can't be changed. For example, I read a book once where Napoleon flew to a battle site on the back of a dragon. I can accept that in a fantasy. But if you tell me Napoleon was a tall man without some elaborate explanations, I'm going to stop reading. It's too much a part of what I know about the historical figure.
I think I was wrong in that criticism of Wolf Hall and I think realizing it made my review of Bringing Up the Bodies better.
Saturday, October 25, 2014
Saturday, October 11, 2014
My daughter loves nineteenth century novels and has convinced me to be a fan as well. I like the concept that the thoughts of writers from over a hundred years ago can still be fresh to readers such as me and I wonder if the same thing will happen with any of my work. I've had some stories published in university literary magazines, including one in the same volume as a Grace Paley story, so perhaps copies will be kept in the college library archives. And my current novels are available in Kindle and Nook forms. The internet is a game changer for longevity (just ask any celebrity with pictures he or she doesn't want out there). So writing a novel today definitely has a time capsule aspect to it. Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser. I made a few comments on the sexism of the time and on other aspects of Dreiser's thoughts. Of course that makes me wonder what someone would think of White Horse Regressions 100 years after its publication date. Even today, readers have varied impressions of my novels, just as they do with any writer. But there may be additional information available years from now that impacts how people feel about my books. With a little luck I'll be someone they think of as ahead of his time, like Jules Verne, rather than someone, like Theodore Dreiser, whose ideas about women seem dated.