Tuesday, April 23, 2013

St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves - Karen Russell

Karen Russell is a significant new author and her work, particularly her short fiction, has generated substantial interest, perhaps because she obviates the distinction between the mimetic and fantastic genres, between speculative and realist fiction, simply by writing as if the distinction did not exist.

And so in St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, we encounter insomniac prophets, boys hunting the ghost of their dead sister, titanic spiral shells as fairground exhibits, spirit possession, werewolves, and minotaurs on the Great Western Migration. These inhabit stories that focus on the uncertainty and difficulty of the transition to adulthood. The difficulty for the reader is not so much in identifying the fantastic as in determining how these elements are cogent to the story. What does it mean, for example, that the narrator's father in "from Children's Reminiscences of the Western Migration" is a minotaur? The figure is neither wholly figurative nor wholly mundane; not simply an image of the strength and stubbornness of purpose a child might project onto a father, or an ironic transplantation of the mythical beast of the Labyrinth into the linear myth of western expansion. Russell's stories excel in this deadpan delivery of the fantastic, masked by the heightened, almost hallucinatory quality of her prose, teasing us with the scent of multiple implications that never lead to fixed points.

Russell's stories often end unhappily, or on the ambiguous verge of disaster, as though succumbing to a kind of narrative entropy in which all the choices and possibilities of maturity are bad ones. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can make the reader uneasy, ambivalent about the reading experience itself.

One of Russell's techniques struck me in an oddly personal way. In a couple of stories she has the habit of injecting exotic sounding names (Toowoomba, Aokeroa [sic], Rangi, Waitaki Valley, Mr Oamaru) into her text. Perhaps they are picked at random; perhaps they are consciously chosen to create estrangement, to suggest dislocation. But I have spent a lot of time in the real Waitaki Valley, and for me this transposition of place-names was disconcerting, an overlay of fictional terrain and real spaces, which seemed to pose an interpretative puzzle, a cypher for which the key is still absent. Perhaps that's the aim.

Nevertheless, these are fluid, imaginative, inventive stories that mark the edges of new terrain for fiction.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

E-book Deal on The Raven's Seal

Although I can't say too often how impressed I am with the print production of The Raven's Seal, right now the e-book is on sale until Wednesday, April 24 for 0.99$ US.

You can find this deal on Amazon, iTunes for iBooks, Google and Kobo.

Even better, the deal has fired The Raven's Seal up to number 190 on the Kindle bestseller lists, and a brilliant #2 on the historical mysteries bestsellers list and the historical fiction list overall.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Cross-posting: Imagining Airenchester on Reading the Past

This week, I'm honoured that Reading the Past, a blog dedicated to news, views and reviews of historical fiction, has posted my short essay on imagining Airenchester, the broader fictional setting for The Raven's Seal.

In this piece, I speak to the creation of an imaginary city as the location for a historical fiction. What interests me most about this is how research and imaginations, and the techniques of world-building, can all lead into the creation of a fictional place that feels realised and is yet ephemeral.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Iain Banks news

Sad news today that the writer Iain Banks has been diagnosed with cancer. To my mind, Iain Banks, or Iain M Banks in his works of speculative fiction, is one of our most interesting and important contemporary writers.

Iain Banks was hugely influential on me in my twenties and thirties: one of the few writers who bridged the gap between speculative fiction and literary fiction, his work incorporated literature, fantasy and science fiction. But more than that, he wrote with intelligence, ferocious energy and humour. He taught me that a novel can be incorporate many things, but it should always drive forward and never lapse into dullness.

O you who turn the wheel and look to windward, Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.