Monthly Archives: August 2006

Literature

Because I didn’t want to leave the Anita Blake books at the top of my blog, I hereby present you with an intriguing little volume.

The Facts of Winter by Paul Poissel (Translated by Paul La Farge)

This was one of the many books I picked up while working at Borders. When I was shelving, it was pretty much a case of ‘one for me, one for the shelf,’ etc. In other words, I didn’t know I needed it until I saw it. Turns out, I really did need this.

It is written in French by Paul Poissel with the English translations by Paul La Farge on the facing pages, so it’s good for those of you who can read French to get in some practice. For those of us who only pretend we can read French, it is good fun to see just how close our understanding of French truly is. Frankly, I didn’t do so poorly and it inspired me to sign up for French classes this fall. Er, so there. I don’t know where I was going with that.

Each page is a short depiction of a dream by various characters. There doesn’t seem to be any sort of plot or threads of connection keeping the dreams or characters tied together. Just like a real dream, I suppose. And the dreams range from the surreal to the, well, not-so-surreal, again just like a real dream. Some are charming, others are unsettling.

Almost a third of the book is taken up by La Farge’s afterword and here is where things get confusing, although delightfully so. In support of my upcoming argument, I will quote from the summary on the back of the book:

Paul Poissel was not born in 1848. As a young man, he did not set out to become the greatest Turkish architect in Paris. He did not fail to become the greatest Turkish architect in Paris. He never became a poet, or invented puzzles for an illustrated magazine. In 1904, he did not write this book, The Facts of Winter.

Paul La Farge has translated (from the original French) this collection of dreams — funny, haunting, enigmatic — all dreamed by people in and around Paris in 1881. La Farge’s afterword investigates the Facts’ creating, uncovering startling revelations, unknown truths, and new falsehoods.

My question is this: Is there really a Paul Poissel or did La Farge write it as though there were, including the rather in-depth and suspiciously fitting biography? The afterword is written partially in second person, present tense, putting the reader in La Farge’s shoes as he attempts to research Poissel’s background. Although he does have repeated interactions with a somewhat unwanted friend, there is a distinct sense of isolation and loneliness which, ironically or perhaps purposefully, mirrors Poissel’s mindset as he unknowingly prepares to write The Facts of Winter. Coincidence? I’m not so sure.

If Poissel and his Facts of Winter are in fact (no pun intended) a creation of La Farge’s, that adds a new layer to the book, one which would require a rereading of the dreams knowing the state of mind that, supposedly, went into them. Now I realize my question could be easily answered by a quick Google search or even by browsing the shelves at my local bookshop. But before I do that, I choose to wonder for a moment. To dream, even.

My rating: B+

Because I don’t want to appear a fool to anyone who’s read this and knows more than I do, I checked out my theory. I don’t want to say either way because I think it adds an interesting depth to the book, so, if you’re desperate to know, highlight the following space: Paul Poissel does not exist.

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Horror

All right, I’m terribly bored, so I thought I’d try my hand at book reviews, the first of which is of the first two books in Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, Guilty Pleasures and The Laughing Corpse. It’s a review of both of them together and came out rather more negatively than I intended – I really did think they were fun reads.

Guilty Pleasures/The Laughing Corpse by Laurell K. Hamilton

Let me start by saying that, aside from a borrowed Dean Koontz book in high school, I am not generally a fan of horror books. I picked up Guilty Pleasures, the first in Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, on a whim, probably in a lull in my romance phase, based on the recommendation of a girl I used to work with who said they were really quite good before, and I quote, “Anita became the town bicycle.”

I thought the background set-up was quite interesting: a St. Louis (is there a less sexy city?) in an alternate universe where vampires are tolerated as a tourist draw and can practically vote and where zombie-raisings are nothing out of the ordinary. Enter Anita Blake, zombie raiser extraordinaire, although the PC-term, I believe, is animator. She is also known as The Executioner because of her past spent killing vampires before they became law-abiding citizens like the rest of us.

I won’t go too much into the details of the plots as they’re fairly similar (apart from a subplot in Guilty Pleasures which concerns a man addicted to vampire bites which I found somewhat confusing) and standard: something supernatural is killing something else (either vampires or people, respectively) and Anita must figure out who or what is behind the growing body count and put a stop to it. The depictions of said killings are much more graphic than I am used to and I don’t necessarily think of myself as squeamish, but I found some of the blood a bit unsettling. Not that that’s a bad thing, I mean, it is a horror novel about vampires, I’m just saying if you don’t like that kind of thing, you might want to steer clear. The mystery plots, I thought, tended to wrap up fairly suddenly with a somewhat unbalanced pacing in which Anita spends 22 chapters one frustrating step behind the perpetrator only to realize what’s going on and apprehend (or kill) them in chapter 23. I really shouldn’t complain, I suppose, as my own book ends somewhat swiftly, too.

The sexual tension between Anita and Jean-Claude, master vampire of the city (St. Louis? Really? It’s just that Nome, Alaska is probably sexier than St. Louis!) is practically tangible and Jean-Claude is, in a word, delicious. I wish she’d just get it on with him already, although, based on my co-worker’s sentiments and skimming ahead in future books, I predict a dalliance with a werewolf to be in the cards instead.

One more complaint (and despite the decidedly negative tone this review has taken, I really did find them to be quick, entertaining reads, suitable for beach or pool-side vacations. Probably a few margaritas help to even out the pace and enliven the plot.) and that is that I am sick and tired of tiny, petite yet tough heroines. Some of us readers are six feet tall, you know, and when all these women solving crimes and killing things are barely five feet tall, it makes it even harder for us tall girls to identify with them! Not that that’s the only thing keeping me from identifying with Anita Blake, but it’s definitely not helping.

So, in summary, if you’re looking for a quick read that’s entertaining enough and has a sexy vampire who will hopefully play a bigger part in future books, go ahead and pick up Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton (the first in the Anita Blake series), but probably only if you can find it in a used bookshop. I’ve payed full price for all the volumes that I have, but I wish I hadn’t. I suppose that speaks well of the books as I’m hooked enough to buy them new. *shrugs*

My rating: C+

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