Sunday 15 July 2018

Far From Home - Walter Tevis (1981)

Rating: Excellent

I first read this excellent collection of short stories back when I was about sixteen in high school. I was so impressed that I've always kept it in my book collection, never once considering it for culling in one of my periodic clean-outs. Far From Home was just as impressive some thirty years later and it was also a pleasant exercise in nostalgia for me as I remembered how I reacted to the stories when I was a teenager. Some of the stories reveal a writer who is very interested in the human psyche, dealing with themes unusual for science fiction, such as the Oedipus complex and childhood trauma. Other stories feature uniquely brilliant takes on such well worn science fiction tropes as time travel (including one called Echo that I'm sure would have influenced Greg Egan), alien planets and eccentric scientists creating weird technologies. Reading the book as an adult made me wonder about Tevis himself, as many of the male characters were quite lusty and referenced their appreciation of the female form often and in nearly every story characters were often drinking gin or whisky. Was he putting something of himself in his stories, or just giving his male characters some machismo that matched the times? Maybe he hoped Playboy Magazine would buy some of his stories and if so it would have been a well suited match!

Friday 6 July 2018

The Miniaturist - Jessie Burton (2014)

Rating: Admirable
The Miniaturist is one of those novels that are just like a really beautiful looking cake that tastes wonderful at first but the more that you eat the more unpalatable it becomes. Set in sixteenth century Amsterdam when Holland was at its apogee in terms of wealth and trade, the novel's themes deal with dark family secrets, the coming of age of the principal female protagonist - Petronella, the hypocrisy and paranoia of religion and some magic realism in the form of the precognitive powers of a young female miniaturist. I initially did become engaged with the plot and some of the characters were well rounded enough so that I cared what happened to them, however as the novel neared its endgame I became less satisfied. The tapestry of the narrative had become frayed so that the tension that was developed earlier dissipated and led to a fairly disappointing and predictable ending. The novel is good enough to be taken up and developed by the BBC as a mini-series (how appropriate...), but ultimately The Miniaturist lacks that vital narrative spark that makes for a memorable classic.