I thought for a moment. “I think I am about to do something stupid.”
“In Cyprus you only need ask yourself one question,” Tara said, deadly serious. “Is it out of desperation?”
I keep running into artists in the novels I read -- like in Tom Rachman's The Italian Teacher, Russo's Bridge of Sighs, or even Hawley's Before the Fall -- there are other examples, I'm sure -- but they're not coming to me right now. I've never understood the appeal, really, but I hold out hope that one day I'll get it. And I shouldn't be running out of opportunity anytime soon -- it's a vocation that draws authors like flies to honey.
Gary Raymond's artist protagonist is a little different than the typical depiction. He's a successful artist -- to some extent, anyway -- but not a genius (misunderstood or not), he's not a superstar. In fact, his best days are probably behind him, and he knows it. But he's still plugging away at it, while pursuing an otherwise self-destructive lifestyle. He's invited to a funeral in Cyprus at just the right time -- his finances are in shambles and his relationship is in a similar state, the largest question being which will fall apart first.
Not only is he invited, but his trip is paid for -- so he can go. Francis Benthem is the deceased, and at one point in time he was a teacher, a mentor for the narrator (I should say that Raymond didn't name him, I'm not being negligent) -- he was like a father to him, really. So he goes to the funeral, and for most of it, is the only one present besides the priest. Eventually, Mr. Prostakov (Benthem's employer, who paid for everything) and a few other people show up and leave quickly. Their appearance both confuses and intrigues the narrator.
Actually, that describes just about everything about Cyprus -- it confuses and intrigues him. So he spends time getting to know the island, the people on it and, when given the opportunity, Mr. Prostakov. Illie Prostakov is an enigma wrapped in a riddle, wrapped in a hint of a stereotypical wealthy Russian with a murky past and revenue stream. He presents the narrator with a business proposition -- take up residence in his home and replace Benthem. He's a little vague as to the artistic duties required, so I will be, too. But the money's good enough to take care of problems back home, so the narrator takes the job -- not realizing the trouble and mystery that he's put himself in the way of.
Unlike Bentham, the narrator won't just take things at face value -- he asks questions, and when he doesn't get answers, he tries to find them (he might not be great at it, but he tries). Who is Prostakov? What's he doing? Who are the people he surrounds himself with? Asking these questions isn't the safest thing he could do -- getting answers is probably worse.
The island of Cyprus isn't just the setting of the novel, it's practically a character. While the narrator is trying to understand his employer and his employer's aims, most people are more concerned with getting him to understand Cyprus. Everyone's description (I don't have a hard count, but I'd guess at least a dozen are given) is different, but combined you begin to get an idea what life on the island is like. In the end, I think we get a fuller understanding of Cyprus than we do anything that the narrator is looking into.
Which is not to say that he doesn't get any answers. He does, as does the reader. Raymond doesn't leave you frustrated like that.
There's a feel to this book that makes you think it'll be one thing, but it's not. The characters seem to be certain types, and most are -- but they don't act the way you think they will. The conclusion seems surely to be headed in one direction, but it ends up giving you a different ending. Everywhere you look, Raymond doesn't do what you expect -- which is both refreshing and annoying (you'd like to be right occasionally).
I'm not that convinced this is really a thriller -- but it's being marketed as one. As a thriller, I think it's missing a sense of urgency, of real danger. But I think things moved too quickly, and without the depth called for in a literary book. A little more time after our narrator took the job and trying to accomplish it before the plot moves forward, more time spent on the painting (and talking about the process) would've helped. A greater sense of hazard, of peril from Viktor or Illie would've helped a lot on the thriller front. In the end, the book wasn't quite sure it knew what it wanted to be -- and a mix of the two genres would've worked, but it needed to be a bit more of one of them (or both) to really be effective. It was just always lukewarm.
That said -- it never, not for a minute, failed to hold my interest. I may not have been very invested in the outcome or characters, but I was glued to it. Frankly, I think the narrator was the same way -- he wasn't invested in his relationship back in London, his career (really), or anything that was happening around him on Cyprus -- but he couldn't stop himself from sticking a toe in here and there, from involving himself just a little bit in everything. As he was confused -- so was I. As he was intrigued -- so was I. Raymond did a very effective job in getting the reader (or at least this reader) to see things from his protagonist's eyes.
Raymond's given us something unique here. I've talked before about books that I can respect and admire more than enjoy. This is one of those -- the writing and approach of this novel exceeds any affection or excitement I might have for it. It's not the kind of thriller you can finish and move on from easily -- I'm going to be thinking about this for a while. The characters will linger in my imagination, but the reality he depicts will stay around longer. This isn't a novel that lends itself to a rating any more than it lends itself to a genre-classification, so take it with a grain of salt.
My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided, including a copy of this book -- which didn't influence the above post, beyond giving me something to post about.
I think I have already read this one, but I don't have a record of that, so leave it at maybe. Of course, this one didn't get logged last week when read, because they get knocked out in one quick sitting, then immediately on to the next thing. Volume 2 is out now, so a refresher was necessary. Like Paper Girls and Lumberjanes, strange things are afoot and it could be anything. It is so gratifying to read about girls having adventures just like they are real people. Kudos for Westerfeld who puts female and minority characters front and center, without making it the point. If I can get #2, I'm going to use it for my New Release.
Puvilland has different styles and palettes that set off the sheer strangeness of what Poughkeepsie has become. Approaching it from the woods in particular puts me in mind of footage from Chernobyl twenty years later.
The House with a Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs is the first in a series which (mainly) revolve around a boy named Lewis Barnavelt and his adventures living with his uncle who is a magician. I originally searched this book out because I saw the trailer for the upcoming film and got that familiar itch of "I must go to there". Then I found out that Edward Gorey was the illustrator and that clinched the deal. Bellairs blends mystery and magic to tell the story of a lonely little boy who is suddenly orphaned and thrust into the custody of a man he has never met before. Uncle Jonathan is unlike any person that Lewis has ever known and that's not only because he's a magician. Uncle Jonathan's house (a character in its own right) contains a mystery that all starts with the man who originally owned the property and who was himself a magician...a dark wizard in fact. With the combined forces of Uncle Jonathan and their neighbor (and witchy friend) Mrs. Zimmerman they begin a desperate search for the source of a mysterious ticking inside the walls of their house because they are certain it was magicked their by the original owner who no doubt created it with nefarious intentions. Our main character, Lewis, is at the same time struggling to fit in at his new school and while trying to impress his new friend he finds himself going against his uncle's wishes and trying a little magic of his own. Surely nothing could go wrong... This was a strong start to a series which began in 1973 and ran until 2008. [A/N: Books 4-6 were written after the death of John Bellairs from outlines and notes he left behind. The remainder were written entirely by Brad Strickland.] This book was a solid 8/10 but (as a heads up) I'll be reviewing 2 & 3 in the not too distant future and they didn't quite live up to this first book.
Check out the trailer which initially piqued my interest: The House with a Clock in its Walls.
|One of the Edward Gorey illustrations from inside the book. [Source: Pinterest]|
What's Up Next: The Outsider by Stephen King
What I'm Currently Reading: Only Human by Sylvain Neuvel
Disclaimer: reviewing a pre-publication digital proof via Netgalley, so not all images were available, some formatting and text may have changed,etc.
Reading like a classic children's novel, The Wonderling takes you on an illustrated, Dickensian journey of adventure, discovery, and identity.
The character who eventually becomes known as Arthur is a nameless groundling (a talking, humanoid fox child) in a nightmarish prison of an orphan's home. He's essentially good and proceeds through his adventures by being so pure, goodhearted, kind etc. etc. etc. that he wins out over the fiendishly unpleasant and evil cartoonish villains. So, like I said, classic kids lit. Think anything by Frances Hodgson Burnett, but with animal hybrids. Arthur is a bumbling but well-intentioned naif who goes about making friends and allies and more or less sailing through some admittedly hairy situations without much real danger or tension. Creepy settings, but not terrifying. Shoutout to his best friend, a tiny flightless bird-creature - she's an engineer-inventor and consistently saves the day and moves the story along.
The art is pretty, delicate, pencil-shaded drawings (though, as noted, not all of it was present in the proof copy). The story is slow, meandering and dreamy in a probably-intentional way. It's long (again, kids lit of the past-style), with masses of description, and will get varying mileage depending on the reader. If you adore illustrated classics, fantastical worldbuilding and simple, traditional stories, or your kid prefers dreamy fantasies of the past over fast-paced modern thrills, it'll be right up your alley. If you're an impatient reader, or giving it to a kid who's a reluctant reader or has trouble focusing, I doubt it'll hold your attention. Some good ideas around art, music, and hope expressed in a very simple style that either lacks in sophistication and depth, or is child-appropriate, depending on your perspective/age. I didn't adore it, but ten-year-old me probably would have happily spent the time to push through.