Friday, 2 May 2014

What I've been reading: Wicked and various short stories.

Ugh. Soooo many vampire stories.

For various reasons of a masochistic stripe I have read every vampire short story in my possession that I don't know more-or-less by heart already, and a few that I can get for nowt online. I have done this regardless of whether they are any good or not. Naturally, being the ones I have read less often, they tend to be somewhat less inspiring. Still, a few treats were to be found, foremost The Drifting Snow, which was an unexpected delight - especially as it was written by the much maligned August Derleth.

Anyway, more about vampires later. Is that a what? A threat? A promise?

On a related note, if you see a copy of this book second-hand,  it's probably worth your coin for the Saki story alone. Still, I maintain it displays considerable cheek to call adoorstop sized collection 'GREATEST VAMPIRES' and only have about seven vampire stories in the whole volume. Technically the title is Greatest Vampires and other horrors but that last part is in teeny tiny, near illegible font, so the point stands. Some fab ghost stories in there, though, and as I found my copy in a recycling box, I can hardly complain.

Speaking of 'other horrors', Gregory Maguire's Wicked is an incredibly ruthless book, far more so than I'd expect from the hype surrounding the musical, and something of a shock to a person who only has faint memories of The Wizard of Oz. While it isn't an entirely consistent novel, which I've come to expect from works which cover such a long timespan, it is enjoyable throughout. I would say the middle of the book is the best, possessing a page turning intensity and a fine irony in the telling. The beginning is rather slow, though, and the ending felt somewhat forced and hurried. The reason for this is probably lie in the fact that Wicked is derivative fiction, and was thereby constrained by the events and timespan of The Wizard of Oz.

Quite compelling.
Most effective was Maguire's early stance that Elphaba should not receive inferiority, and the book suffered when he backed down on that. The impression that she is an utter enigma is so heavily played upon throughout the novel that by the time she takes the 'narration' Maguire seems unwilling to undermine that by giving his readers to many answers. To me, at least, this made her actions seem disjointed, her actions inexplicable even to herself. Of course, with her so isolated at the novel's end, it would have been hard to reframe the narrative in terms of another's viewpoint, but to do so successfully would have been all the more effective because of that.

So, flawed and a little unsatisfactory, but it was haunting. While I'm not convinced of it as a portrait of causes and complications of the Wicked Witch's wickedness, it was a solidly enjoyable read, offering a very approachable exploration of prejudice, privilege, historical blindness and the slow encroachment of intolerance. Maybe I will watch that musical after all.

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