Month: April 2015

The Good Man Jesus And The Scoundrel Christ – Philip Pullman

This is an old, but relevant, post.

 

If you’ve heard the name Philip Pullman, you’ve probably heard it uttered in the same sentence as the name of his fantastic trilogy His Dark Materials, or the cinematic flop based on the first book in that trilogy. If you’ve read that trilogy you’d know that he has very strong opinions about Christianity, and naturally you’d be curious to see his take on the life of Jesus Christ.

Or should I say, Jesus and Christ?

The big twist with this book is that Jesus has an identical twin brother, and that twin is called Christ. Jesus is the familiar weirdo from the New Testament; a stubborn, grandiose itinerant preacher contemptuous of hypocrites with money. Christ is a more subdued figure, egged on by an enigmatic stranger into stalking his brother and recording his activities. With a few embellishments, of course, the stranger is very clear that people are attracted to spectacle.

The way that Pullman arranges the gospel stories into this new framework is very interesting. I’d argue that for someone familiar with the Jesus story, seeing how things fit in the wrinkle is the main appeal of the book. For example, Jesus plays the role of the prodigal son, and Christ is resentful when Joseph celebrates his return. Christ also assumes the devil’s role when Jesus is tempted in the desert. As you’ve probably already guessed, Christ also plays a pivotal part towards the pointy end of the narrative.

Pullman’s prose is perfect. I can’t give you specific reasons why I think this is so, but I have certain inklings. The sentences aren’t bloated with unneeded clauses, each adjective is perfectly placed, and the man knows how to deploy a semicolon. I’ve done more than my fair share of creative writing courses at a university level, and this is the sort of writing that ends up in readers for those subjects. Top notch stuff.

In conclusion, I give this book twelve out of twelve disciples. Go check it out sometime.

The Game – Diana Wynne Jones

This is a children’s novel about an orphan girl who is raised by her grandparents, until circumstances force her to live with her cousins and aunts. There she plays a secretive game, where the children fetch magical objects from mythical worlds.

Reading this, you can easily see why Diana Wynne Jones was friends with Neil Gaiman. The novel makes a number of literary allusions, but main ones are to Roman gods. Roman gods are a bit of an odd choice, because everyone’s accepted that Greek culture is just classier, but it fits well with an astrological theme. The whole thing reminded me of Eight Days of Luke.

It’s a short book, and given how much I enjoyed it, I think it was worth the effort.

Blue Blue City – Peter Kelly

I’ve gone and copied the entire contents of my anti-novel Blue Blue City onto a WordPress post.

I did it because I was curious. I wanted to see if a single blogpost could handle the text, and it looks like it can. The next thing to know is, what search terms will people need to find this text? And will it make any of them happy?

If I were you, I’d ignore this post. Live your mundane lives, make sure your precious family knows that you love them. Ignore the pretentious parade of pointlessness that compromises the rest of this post.

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The Thirteen And A Half Lives Of Captain Bluebear – Walter Moers

This book, now, this book, this book is really something else.

The title should give you as clue as to the contents, a serious of preposterous events from the complicated lives of a blue bear. There are ocean wonders, such as minipirates, carnivorous island paradises and a black slave ship commanded by a megalomaniacal chemical compound; terrifying beasts like the cyclopedian bollogs, treacherous troglotrolls, and hypnotic spiderwitch, and sci-fi elements including the dimensional hiatus, a spaceship disguised as a city, and a gelatinous prince. This book has pretty much everything. The only books I could really compare it to are Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities and Clive Barker’s Abarat.

The best thing about The Thirteen And A Half Lives of Captain Bluebear is the pictures, and that’s great because there sure are a lot of them. They’re black and white sketches, the kind that I assume are drawn with an ink pen. The absurd fluidity of the images remind me of the pictures in a Doctor Seuss book, and their shaded intricacy bring to mind Christopher Riddell’s illustrations in The Edge Chronicles. This book supports my theory that fantasy books are better if they are illustrated by their authors.

Trying to pin down a target audience for this novel is as challenging as boxing it into a genre. Younger children may be intimidated by the book’s thickness, and the adults alienated by the pictures. I’d recommend this book for smart primary kids, and those who are young at heart. Perhaps the cardiovascularly young can read this book to kids unnerved by large books.

True fact: this book has been adapted into a German musical. (This book was originally written in German, and Captain Bluebear is fixture of a kids’ show over there.) The Germans have musical adaptions of Rocky and the Hunchback of Notre Dame, so you can be certain that they’d only choose the best to perform on stage. Besides, terrible books rarely make it to the stage.

All I’m saying, is that you should read this book. With it, Walter Moers has won himself a place on the my List of Authors I Must Read. His other books may be mentioned on this blog.

Crawlers – Sam Enthoven

Sam Enthoven is a British author writes horror thrillers for the Young Adult market. I first became aware of him when I read his book The Black Tattoo, a martial arts adventure that spiraled out of control and into the very depths of Hell.

In his 2010 novel Crawlers, two school excursions to the theatre are disrupted by mind-controlling parasites. It turns out that the London City Council has been keeping their Queen prisoner in the theatre basement, and now she wants out and presumably to dominate the world. Enthoven gets points for making a city council so sinister. He also gets points for including themes of class and race in a supernatural thriller, as one school group comes from a posh school and the other doesn’t. There’s also an interesting literary gimmick, with most of the novel being narrated in third person, except the bits that are told directly by the monstrous Queen. The big implication is that the Queen’s parasites are allowing her know exactly what is going on.

Crawlers had good characterisation. The characters were recognizable types that slotted into the familiar High School hierarchy. You’ve got the smug athlete, his bullying sidekick, the unlikeable outcast who tries to ingratiate himself into the in-crowd, and the sneering misfit who thinks he’s above it all. There as also a bit of romance, although thankfully it didn’t dominate the story.

This book was also fairly specific about its locations. Well, one location anyway. The theatre in question is the Barbican Theatre, which I totally hadn’t heard of until I googled the name. Looks like a nice enough place. Kids who’ve read this book can visit the Barbican and think ‘A monstrous Queen lives here, what fun!’ And that sort of thing really is fun, so more points for Enthoven.

This novel could have done with some more copy-editing. There were too many colons and semicolons, and these slightly esoteric marks could alienate young adult readers. They certainly bothered me.

This was an enjoyable book, but if you’re starting out with Sam Enthoven you should really read The Black Tattoo first.