Wednesday, April 25, 2018

April Reads Part Two

Blood of the Mantis by Adrian Tchaikovsky
The Damned Utd by David Peace
and a bunch of comics

I'm so ridiculous: I complain about my collecting habits, so I go to the library and take out a bunch of comic books... then I think about buying them and start planning all my purchases. Lol. In my defense, I'm re-reading Jonathan Hickman's run on The Avengers, which comes after his spectacular run on Fantastic Four. I own both the omnibuses for that run, and it's something I go back to every so often. It stands to reason that I'll enjoy Hickman's Avengers for years to come....

With Blood of the Mantis, Tchaikovsky fixes some minor issues I've had with the two previous books (the lack of physical description, the breathless pace) but makes no major strides forward. I thought often of television while reading this, how this particular entry feels exactly like an episode in the middle of a season: all the plots have started, the characters have been scattered, obstacles subordinate to the major conflict are presented. Characterization has slowed down, considerably, as I don't think the narrative is ready to start major changes or kill anybody off until the emotional stakes have been properly established. It's not necessarily a negative attribute to me that this third book feels like an episode of a television series; I did, after all, elect to read a serialized narrative over 10 books; but one wonders if what the series would look like if there were only five books or even four. With other series, I've read, such as Wolfe's Book of the New Sun, Cameron's Traitor Son Cycle, each entry changed the stakes as there were little room for breath. Even Erikson's mammoth Mazalan Book of the Fallen, the two volumes I've completed have felt... indispensable. Which isn't to say that Blood of the Mantis wasn't thoroughly enjoyable. In the micro, Tchaikovsky's handle on plot is fun. It's the macro that worries me. What does the fifth book look like? Or the sixth? Will they operate like comic books, resetting the status quo with the illusion of change?

I haven't read a David Peace novel since December 25, 2010. After reading a lovely piece in the Guardian, with David Mitchell interviewing Peace and vice versa, and another piece, a retrospective of the Red Riding Quartet, I thought it's high time I went back to Peace. Though I have little interest in sports, Peace's aesthetics and style were enough to engage me with his well-received The Damned Utd. It's not quite a novel and it's not quite a biography and it's not quite... like anything else. The book tracks each of the 44 days Brian Clough was the manager of Leeds United, with flashbacks detailing the circumstances all the way up to the first day on the job. Not all 44 days are full of incident. and you can tell the structure was more of a hindrance than an inspiration, but Peace still managed to write a sports novel engaging enough for me to finish. I didn't love it, not because of Peace, but because I really couldn't give a shit about football. I'm alienated from the subject of this novel in countless ways: most readers would already be familiar with Clough and Leeds (I had to ask a friend on Twitter how to pronounce his name; it's Cluff) and the tumultuous history. I had to consult Wikipedia a couple of times. Many readers would also be familiar with the culture depicted herein. I don't know much about footie culture in the UK other than what I've gleaned from pop culture and media. Which made the book a bit of a slog in certain areas, and again, through no fault of the text. Rather, my ignorance and lack of interest in the subject made the going rough. I still enjoyed it on the whole; I adore Peace's choppy terse style, his genius use of repetition and motif. I wish Peace would write more crime, but you can tell that "crime" is not his interest. Instead he seems energized by the past and how to build it up, brick by brick, piece by piece.

I bought his mammoth Red or Dead which clocks in at 800 densely packed pages (lots of stats, little paragraph breaks) so if I thought The Damned Utd. was difficult, his novel about Bill Shankly and Liverpool FC is going to challenge me even more.

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