What is "Metaliterature"? It is literature about literature, in this case, views, reviews, and thoughts provoked by stuff I've read. I'm hoping this might be a chronicle of the brain of a life-long reader as guided by intertextual coincidence. If you like what you read, read what I like.
Currently domiciled in the Vale of Glamorgan.
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The Memory, Sorrow and Thorn Trilogy, by Tad Williams
I mused recently, rashly and publicly about the derivative nature of most fantasy fiction opuses. Unfortunately, for me, I was guilty of a sweeping generalisation that left me open to a convincing challenge, which duly arrived courtesy of Deborah Beale on Twitter, or @MrsTad as she is known. She told me in not so many words that I was a buffoon and to go away and read Memory, Sorrow and Thorn by Mr Tad before making any further egregiously similar mistakes, tenderly qualifying her praise with the caveat that it's a slow starter. So, having being goaded into committing what amounted to two months of my reading time to this trilogy (or tetralogy if you wanted to buy the last volume in two constituent parts, Siege and Storm), I have come to the conclusion that I was right all along.
That is NOT to say that these three/four novels are diminished by the presence of archetypal characters, races, situations and events and which are to be found littered throughout such luminary fantasy works as Donaldson's The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, Tolkien, and the pages of Campbell's oft-derided mapping of hero myths, The Hero With A Thousand Faces - rash oaths, unwilling heroes, plains dwelling horse peoples, magical metal work, gruff, obstreperous northerners, elvish types, naughty elvish types who don't mind a bit of cold, and so forth - no, not at all! In fact, I was engrossed from the off. It little matters who copies from whom when the storytelling is as good, and more importantly across 2200 pages, as consistent as this!
And that is the truly remarkable facet of this multi-faceted work. I am absolutely amazed at how consistent is every single character voice, from the reluctant hero Simon Snowlock (né Mooncalf), through gruff Duke Isgrimnur, modest troll Binabik, spiky and tenacious Princess Miriamele, to even the overly-egged pudding that is Rachel, Dragon of the Hayholt. I could pluck a sentence of dialogue at random from any page and, reading it aloud, could instantly identify the speaker, such is the strength and stability of characterisation. I can only read in envy and awe. Such prowess is surely the work of years of painstaking editing and amending.
And whilst, for sure, there are some slower sections, with much Hamlet-esque pacing and musing where I would perhaps have preferred more charging and killing, and some where you think, surely he'd be dead by now, or physically unable to pick up a sword, or leap across a chasm, or climb a ladder, or even sit up without support, let alone climb a million steps in the dark or walk hundreds of miles through the most severe cold and punishing weather imaginable, it's so easy to suspend disbelief, to allow some self-indulgent wallowing of tortured souls in their indecision and suffering, when the characters propel the reader from page to page, chapter to chapter and volume to volume relentlessly and without respite. Who has time to dwell on minor details when they are so damnably keen to find out what next, what next?
So, on the record then, I stand by my own rash oath that fantasy is perhaps overly reliant on the tropes and authority of that which has gone before (indeed, Tad Williams reminded me himself that George RR stated publicly the effect that these books had on his own story arc), but for all that, it is an unjustly maligned genre wherein beaver away some of the most fantastic storytellers imaginable. If you have a few months at a loose end, pick this up and hunker down for some highly addictive adventuring.
Not a review this time, more of a curiosity. It seems I'm receiving lots of hits from Russia (Здравствуйте России!) from people searching for the definition of "metaliterature". As such, it is something of a bespoke word, created to fit a need and probably not yet recognized outside literary theory / criticism circles (Merriam-Webster Online certainly don't like it). I was wondering what they typed in to end up here, so, for fun (it's not fun, sorry) I thought I'd bung it in Google Translate and see what came out. As it turns out, one needs a little hyphen for the rather ponderous machine to understand it, and even then only does half the job (meta seems to be meta in any language). Incidentally, below is, ironically, a Google Chrome Thesaurus definition* of "meta":
met·a Adjective/ˈmetə/ (of a creative work) Referring to itself or to the conventions of its genre; self-referentialInterestingly (not interesting, sorry) it says this for the full term, t…
In days gone by, when repeatedly pressed about what my favourite book might be, a banal question seeking an impossible and crude reductionist answer to which I was usually rude in response, I would offer Breakfast Of Champions as a pacifier.
I first read it in University, and it has, to some degree, influenced how I think and feel about a lot of things. Strikingly, I've never wanted to re-read it. Perhaps I was afraid I'd find fault the second time around and wanted to uphold it as a paragon of meta-fiction. Perhaps, but then I'm a relentless consumer of fiction and was always on to the next consumable work, never having time or inclination to go back.
So in the spirit of a more considered and thoughtful phase of my life I decided I wanted to read something that once made me feel good.
I'd clearly not remembered it very well.
But before that, I'm amazed I've gone *mumbles* years without once mentioning Kilgore Trout in my reviews, even in passing. The same goes fo…
I don't think I was asked to honour the old convention
that a freebie necessitates an honest if gently favourable review (at least I
can find no written proof). I will however, name-check the generous (and
possibly over-optimistic) @TheWorkshyFop,
editorial director of the independent British publisher, Dodo Ink, from whose proof boxes of new
November lead titles this one arrived. Thank you, sir! I recall James Miller, specifically Lost
Boys, from the dim and distant past. It may have been a commission for
Waterstones Books Quarterly, or perhaps I was doing a solid for the Little,
Brown sales rep. Regardless, I remember nothing about the book except being
underwhelmed. From reading old reviews, it seems it had the coat-tails of the
contemporaneous zeitgeist in its teeth, but one slightly savage Guardian
review* points out it was pretty badly done. This might explain why I
remember very little, perhaps proving Auden's assertion that, "some books are undeservedly
Once, as a bookseller, I made the foolish decision to take pity on a self-published author who was finding it very hard to get his 'thrilling mystery novel' into bookshops. I quietly agreed to a book signing, one where we provided the space for the author to actively sell their book to the itinerant and duly wary book buyers whilst stepping back and accepting no responsibility for the poor sales, but also accepting praise for my compassion and support in the process. I ordered a very modest number of copies, and gave them a date in store. Imagine my surprise when the book arrived, not a £6.99 A-format paperback as promised, but an £11.99 trade paperback, emblazoned with a monstrous swastika (it seems the husband and wife team designed the cover themselves), bearing the incorrect ISBN and received without checking on an invoice that clearly stated FIRM SALE. Needless to say that sales were very disappointing, and despite weekly calls from the author and his wife encouraging me …