Thursday, June 7, 2012

Can a book be a vampire? Because this one drained me utterly.

1 out of 5 stars

I know I should be raving about the lyrical prose and masterful use of the language, and yes, Yves Meynard writes most excellently. However, the result is hollow, a shell, something that feels as lacking in substance and depth as one of the made worlds described within the novel.

I think part of my problem is that the novel is one of those so-called 'literary fantasy' novels, of which more and more seem to be appearing these past few years. The fantasy genre has always been looked down upon as nothing more than fluff and light entertainment. While it's true that a great many fantasy novels, past and present, fit this description, there are also a great many fantasy novels which deal with deeper themes, concepts and issues as complex and disturbing as those found in traditional literary novels. Yet because they are fantasy novels, they are brushed off and demeaned for the fantastical setting in which these themes are played out. Now, though, in order to appeal to literary snobs, who have a very narrow view of what "quality" writing is, traditionally literary authors who want to try their hands at writing fantasy are making sure to litter their novels with dark and depressing issues, only this time dressed up in gossamer dust and pixie wings. Because of this, they miss the point entirely; the works lack the joy, the wonder inherent in fantasy. Instead, those "serious" issues take center stage, wearing the fantasy setting as a child would wear a costume for Halloween, giving the novels an equally false feeling. The authors are so focused on pounding home the seriousness of the novel, in order to make sure it's known that even though the author has given the novel a fantasy setting, their book is literature and not fluff, whatever wonder the original fantasy might have held gets lost. How dreary. And how lacking. And how aptly this describes Chrysanthe.

We are shown the made worlds, a labyrinth of parallel realities which are infinite and can range from the mundane to complete insanity, depending upon how far down into the labyrinth one travels. However, these worlds are used as a prison for Christine, so right away, they lose some of their wonder (though never their surreal quality) and instead come off as multiple examples of the author boasting, "See how original and inventive I can be?" When we finally meet the reality of the novel, the world of Chrysanthe, a realm of magic and castles and kings and wizards, it feels not only dreary but bland as well. As I read descriptions of Chrysanthe and the characters' actions within, I couldn't feel it. I couldn't see the land or get a sense of the place. As with everything else, it felt hollow.

The other issue I have with the novel is that I can find no character with whom I can identify or even like. Christine, our protagonist, goes through some horrific trauma early in the novel, reminiscent of the repressed memory craze and mad Satanists hidden in our midst frenzy of the 1980's. However, despite this trauma and Christine's subsequent redemption, I can't like or admire her. In fact, I quite often despise her for being weak and whiny. I'm willing to admit that it could be my fault; after all, I can't abide weak, whiny MCs. I can empathize with the horror Christine suffered through, I can feel anger at the treatment she received. Just don't be a whimpering baby. Get angry, lash out, but stop being a victim.

I'll be honest, I don't know if Christine managed to grow a spine later on because I stopped reading the book. I know I should've pressed on, done my duty and finished the novel, but I just couldn't force myself. I couldn't connect with the characters, the story, or any of the motivations. The more I read, the more empty the story felt and the more unfulfilled I became as a participant in the novel until I couldn't stand it any more. I wanted to like the book, I really did, but beyond the skill of Meynard's writing--which is evocative without being flowery or obscure (mostly)--there was nothing for me to like.

Read February 2-March 9, 2012
Originally reviewed on Goodreads March 14, 2012

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