Category: Books

Shrek!

Shrek! is the perfect antidote to the movie franchise that it inspired. Where that was a movie about discovering the beauty within and being a good “person” despite outer appearances, this is a book about being hideous in body and soul and revelling in it.

Shrek is a villain, not a hero. There are no heroes in Shrek’s world. It is glorious.

 

Written by William Steig, who was 86 at the time of publication, Shrek! tells the story of an ogre who is kicked out of home by his parents and terrorises the countryside while looking for a princess.

 

At 32 pages, there’s not much more it than that, but it’s worth mentioning that there is absolutely nothing of the Dreamworks film in this picture book beyond basic character designs. As a subversion of fairy tales, it works much better because there are no knowing winks to non-existent cameras, no waffles and, best of all, no Smash Mouth. I don’t know if it would be as subversive if the billion dollar franchise had never existed but, as the counterpoint to the bitter rantings of a man with a grudge against Disney, it’s brilliant.

 

Steig’s artwork is charming, and exactly as it appears on the cover. This is a very rough, hand made book. The dialogue generally rhymes and pretends to be set for a fantasy world, but it’s not important: Shrek is on a journey of self-realisation. Shrek suspects that he’s the greatest and most horrible, and it’s not until the ending that he gets it confirmed in the funniest way possible.

 

This incarnation of Shrek is truly like an onion; if you cross him he’ll make you cry. I wouldn’t have him any other way, and certainly not as a billion dollar franchise. Shrek! counts among one of the best dollars I’ve ever spent.

Juliet, Naked

As the vanguard of the last sixteen years of British literature, Nick Hornby has a lot to answer for. You can call what he writes what you like – “lad lit”, “dick lit” (as opposed to chick lit, obviously) – but that doesn’t make it any better than what it is: fiction about people who never bothered growing up and show no intention of ever doing so.

This isn’t true of his entire canon, but it holds up for both the instigator of the genre, High Fidelity and its spiritual sequel, 2009’s Juliet, Naked. Reading about people who choose to wallow in lives that they consider wasted is not particularly fun or illuminating. It’s High Fidelity 14 years after the fact: if you thought that collection of characters was developmentally arrested, you will not be at all impressed with this troupe.

A Visit From The Goon Squad

This cover kind of makes sense.I have no idea what this lazy technicolor yawn is supposed to mean.

 

As far as I can tell, you have to be an American to win the Pulitzer Prize. This comes as a relief to me, because I can criticise Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize winning A Visit From The Goon Squad without being asked “Where’s your Pulitzer, Mister Critic?” (If I were American, it would hang on the wall of my office, next to a copy of the prize winning article, “Why the world doesn’t need Superman”).

 

I can understand why A Visit From The Goon Squad won plaudits: it’s so painfully worthy. Substance abuse, daddy issues and the guilt of being upwardly mobile are all addressed within these thirteen short stories masquerading as a novel. These are themes that are so common in American literature that they have come to define it. I have to wonder if some authors feel discouraged if they have written a book without troublesome parents, casual drug use that turns catastrophic or, in the last ten years, at least passing reference to living in a post 9/11 world.

Egan doesn’t have to worry about any of that; it’s all in here, and she has the Pulitzer to show for it.

A Dance With Dragons

Dragons of the universe!

 

I didn’t expect that at the end of the available volumes of A Song of Ice and Fire I would feel like I had run headlong into a brick wall, but that is exactly what happened. I don’t want to sound overly dramatic here but, while A Dance With Dragons is more of a “complete” book than A Feast For Crows (in that it covers more characters), it’s less satisfactory. A Storm of Swords still stands as the single most delightful entry in this canon.

 

Enough quibbling, though: is A Dance With Dragons any good? Keeping in mind that I only had to wait one week for it rather than six years, I’m going to say that yes, it is. On reflection, its three main characters get three complete story arcs that naturally bleed into the next part of the story. It’s just that, given its eighteen different points of view, a lot of the work that Martin performs between these pages is simple shuffling of pawns across the board so that they may be in place for greater things. None of which happen here.

 

Contains spoilers for volumes 1-4, not for A Dance With Dragons itself!

Tales of Dunk and Egg: The Sworn Sword & The Mystery Knight

The second and third entries in the Tales of Dunk and Egg complement each other so well that it’s hard to imagine that they were published seven years apart. It wasn’t until I came to The Mystery Knight that I could appreciate The Sworn Sword for what it is. I realise that a large part of this is because of the significance of the characters at play: in The Mystery Knight Dunk and Egg participate in activities that have some bearing on the future of the realm, while in The Sworn Sword they’re performing pure acts of hedge knighthood.

 

The fault in my interpretation lies not in Martin but in myself; with a fuller understanding of the canon of these characters to date I came to enjoy myself much more than I had beforehand. That Martin’s work can grow in retrospect as well as in the telling is something that I can get behind.

Tales of Dunk and Egg: The Hedge Knight

Published between A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings, The Hedge Knight is the first novella in the A Song of Ice and Fire canon, and the first of the Tales of Dunk and Egg. Set approximately 100 years before the events of A Game of Thrones (according to Wikipedia, 89 years exactly), we are presented with a world at relative peace, the Seven Kingdoms ruled by the Targaryens.

Spoilers of Ice and Fire, Part II

A Week of Ice and Fire, Bonus Round II!

In the second part of the two part “Spoilers of Ice and Fire” series, I look into some other characters. I have no idea how I’m doing for timing, but by the time this is published I firmly hope to be reading A Dance With Dragons.

 

Remember that if you don’t want to know what has happened in the books leading up to A Dance With Dragon, avoid reading this for your own sanity!

 

Spoiler city! So many spoilers for A Game of Thrones to A Feast For Crows you won’t know what to do with yourself!

Spoilers of Ice and Fire, Part I

A Week of Ice and Fire, Bonus Round I!

 

The rest of the Week of Ice and Fire has been dedicated to writing generally spoiler free impressions of A Song of Ice and Fire to date, carefully dancing around ruining anything for anyone. The final entries, however, are devoted to something else entirely: my thoughts on specific and sometimes horrific things that happened within the first four books.

 

If you don’t want to know stuff that happens in the books, you’ll want to avoid this. If you’re already familiar with the books, or you don’t care if you find out things ahead of time … step right in!

 

Spoiler city! So many spoilers for A Game of Thrones to A Feast For Crows you won’t know what to do with yourself!

 

A Feast For Crows

A Week of Ice and Fire, Day Four!

Ah, here is where it all ended six years ago. And this is only half the story – George R.R. Martin chose to split this book geographically, with only the southrons getting any attention in this volume. For news of those in the north and the east, we have to wait until A Dance With Dragons. This means two things: A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons are both sequels to A Storm of Swords, and we won’t get a follow up on the events of A Feast For Crows until The Winds of Winter is published … whenever that may be.

 

This isn’t all bad, because A Feast For Crows is a pretty dang good book. Yet, even more than A Feast For Crows, Martin has truly cultivated his taste for insane cliffhangers. I understand now why people have been so upset for the last six years (particularly as this volume has Martin “devoutly hoping” to release A Dance With Dragons within a year – signed June 2005), but … they’re not going to get any answers. Nothing but questions await us next week, but I don’t plan on devoting my life to cursing Martin’s name for taking his own sweet time.

 

Contains the risk of spoilers for the three books that came before it!

A Storm of Swords

A Week of Ice and Fire, Day Three!

 

I couldn’t find the laughably terrible cover that I have at home at a suitable resolution online, and the new “classy CG” covers are just awful so I’ve declined the opportunity to put them up. Just imagine a book with a really cool cover, because damn fantasy gets poorly treated in the cover stakes.

A Storm of Swords is the most exciting entry in A Song of Ice and Fire of the first three. It’s interesting to say this because it’s essentially an exercise in sadism for Martin from start to finish. Gelling in a way that A Clash of Kings never quite managed, the sheer dynamism on display makes for an incredibly entertaining book. Certainly, the entertainment value falls within the bounds of believability, but … truly, nothing is sacred to Martin, and that is amazing.

 

Contains spoilers for A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings

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