keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
by Catherynne M. Valente
121 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Poetry/Fantasy/Horror

I had such high hopes for Valente's work because of the consistently high praise from my flist. But as I'm currently stuck in the first hundred pages of In the Night Garden and as this review of Apocrypha will attest, I am sadly disappointed. Maybe it's my own fault for setting the bar so high, but Valente rarely manages to evoke that vital sense of wonder in this reader.

Apocrypha is a book of many poems, all fantastical or horrific. I had no idea that some were so dark; I do like dark fantasy, but Valente's version of gore is maddeningly repetitive. Every other piece uses cunt/breasts/womb, glass, or various gemstones. The macabre language ceased to shock me after the first two times, and by the time I read the last poem, "Z," I was yearning for the collection to finally be finished. To give Valente credit, her imagery is unique and lyrical; but all too often, her poetry echoes beautifully in my head with no real meaning or insight. I did like two poems in the collection, and since it is a slim volume, it will remain on my bookshelf. "Song for Three Voices and a Lyre" is an elegant feminist retelling of Greek myth, and the imagery of "Had He Never Come" actually ended with a surprising epiphany.

I will continue to struggle through Valente's much-acclaimed Orphan's Tales, but from the strength of Apocrypha I can only come to a poor conclusion--disappointing, in a word.
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: Ninth Annual Collection
by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling (eds.)
534 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Fantasy/Horror

I've only read one story from this anthology--Ellen Kushner's "The Hunt of the Unicorn." In some ways it was disappointing because I'd expected a Riverside book; while the setting is reminiscent of the city, there are no overt references and it really is a standalone. The ending also had no punch for me although it might be better understood upon rereading. Kushner's weakest work to date for me; but it's old too (1995), so I'll cut her some slack.

Obviously not a review of the collection, or even a review for anyone other than myself.
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Mister B. Gone
by Clive Barker
248 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/Fantasy/Humor

I picked up this book from the library on a whim; demons aren't exactly an original concept, but the voice was interesting. Alas, I can't be bothered to finish reading because voice is pretty much the only virture I can see. Jakabok Botch is a simultaneously devious and pitiful demon apparently trapped in the pages of his memoir; the plot apparently interlaces him talking directly to the reader with tales of his life up to the current point. Neither conceit, again, is particularly original. Jakabok was interesting at first, but his repetition and complaining gets annoying after a while (by which I mean, after 50 pages). The worldbuilding just doesn't feel like it has a lot of thought in it, and the plotting is subpar. Perhaps this is the wrong genre, though--I didn't realize that this was horror at the time, and so found the macabre descriptions needlessly extraneous.

Verdict: voice alone cannot carry a novel. However, the book design is beautiful.
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
by Mary Shelley
166 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Horror/Literary/Gothic

No self-respecting English geek should ignore Mary Shelley's first and most famous novel, Frankenstein--billed originally as a horror piece but studied today purely on a "literary" level. The ostensible protagonist and namesake of the novel is Victor Frankenstein; however, the story at least equally concerns itself with Frankenstein's monster, a grotesque creation of science. As a lit geek, then, I found much to love: allusions, metonymy, layered narrative, dopplegangers, character foils at even the diction level. The characterization is by far Mary Shelley's strength.

For it is difficult to overlook her main weakness: prose. The writing clunks about like a knight in rusty armor, repetitive and flowery with too much "telling" so that the emotional impact of the characters' suffering is considerably lessened. Plot is predictable and clumsily foreshadowed; exaggerated emotions made me mentally roll my eyes more than once. And there is absolutely no voice distinction among the three first-person narrators (Robert Walton, Victor Frankenstein, and the monster). This last point irritated me the most, because I have a damn hard time believing that a created sentient being can acquire such overblown and formal facility with language after a few short years and no direct instruction.

Still, I don't regret reading Frankenstein (though it was required reading, in any case). In concept and character, Mary Shelley did show flashes of appreciable brilliance. I try my best to judge classics as literature rather than pleasure-reading; notably so far, only Pride and Prejudice has enthralled me by both standards.
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
Pan's Labyrinth
(El Laberinto del Fauno)
directed by Guillermo del Toro
Rating: R

Utterly gorgeous. I've been waiting months at the library to get my hands on the DVD, and the wait was worthwhile. The horror-fantasy fairytale plot is a work of art in itself, but the casting and settings are magnificent. This film won 3 Oscars and the score was nominated for a third--let me just say, all deserved. For a subtitled Spanish-language film, achieving such is doubly amazing.

The Wiki entry does a good job of summing up the plot, although I'll add that I believe the tortured rebel was Mercedes's lover. And despite great suspicion, Vidal doesn't do much about Mercedes or the doctor until the very end, when it's too late. But I loved how Vidal was portrayed--though the graphic violence made me wince--how he is absolutely, realistically, fanatical and vicious.

Now I'm off on a DVD-rip program hunt. Ta!
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
In celebration of Halloween tomorrow (and inspired by [personal profile] fireriven's boundless excitement about the holiday), I give you [profile] laitma (Sharon!)'s flash-fiction piece, "Angel Mother." (Line-edited by yours truly.) I think it's more lovely than scary, but other opinions have differed. Julia's writing has spoiled me for horror.


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January 2011



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