Saturday, September 24, 2011

Seeing the world differently through a character's eyes

The use of the first person narrative in fiction, as in non-fiction, is one of literature's most effective mechanisms, enabling a reader to see the world differently through the eyes of a central character, to experience other places, other events, to understand their thoughts and opinions, to connect with their point-of-view.

Many classic novels draw on this method, creating the mood and the tone of an earlier era for a modern reader, as do many of the genre novels of today. And in non-fiction works, whether they are biographical, part-bio, or observational, the first-person viewpoint brings the subject matter much closer to home.

In his book, "A New Earth," Eckhart Tolle takes us on a journey of discovery, putting forward thought-provoking ideas on the individual and collective spiritual aspects of the human race. Tolle tells us his own story along the way, and we are part of the process: his work, his relationships, his life, his studies, and how ultimately they led him to the insights in the book, insights that provide much food for thought.

Of course, being drawn into the world of the writer shouldn't be taken the wrong way. My neighbor Buggeroff, read four of Ian Fleming's James Bonds novels in a row, then went out and hired an expensive, flashy sports convertible for a week. He barely had enough cash that week to buy petrol, and spent his spare time driving that thing to the local shop each day for bread and milk. Buggeroff really needs to read Eckhart Tolle.

Speculative fiction is a style of fiction that is not easily classified, as it contains ideas that transcend the established range of genres and sub-genres, ideas that are often mind-expanding in their scope. Science fiction and fantasy are the usual suspects in showing those sides, but sometimes the most amazing discoveries are all around us, hiding in plain sight in the everyday.

The first-person viewpoint can therefore be just as effective, in surprising ways, in fictional works that transcend genres, as I found recently when reading 'The Silver Mist,' by Martin Treanor, and which I reviewed on the Good Reads site.

There's always something particularly exciting about seeing the world differently through a character's eyes.

Silver Mist, TheSilver Mist, The by Martin Treanor

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Before I had finished the first chapter of this novel I knew I was in for a very special reading experience. Poignant, emotive and superbly written, it perfectly invokes the mood of 1970's Belfast, as seen through the eyes of Eve, a young Down's Syndrome woman. Eve's friendship with the mysterious Esther opens her eyes to both the horrors and wonders of our world through a series of spiritual journeys, and we are there every step of the way. Treanor's tale is intriguing, heartfelt and uplifting. It provides some thought-provoking insights into the nature of our existence and has stayed with me after turning the final page. A rare and highly commended read.

View all my reviews

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Best new blog since the last one

After The Beatles split in 1970, and for the next ten years or so, young bands would emerge that the record companies and reviewers labelled as "the next Beatles" or "the new Beatles." None of them ever were. In fact, no group ever replicated the pop music phenomenon of 1960's 'Beatlemania.'

Not that there haven't been many brilliant and legendary bands. There have. But some of those groups called the new Beatles were like that garage band at the end of your street that makes dogs howl, cats leave town and birds migrate.

I've always been wary of these 'labels.' For the past ten years every second novel that features a modern day thriller combined with historical mythology and religious artifacts, has been called "the next Da Vinci Code," or its author dubbed "the new Dan Brown."

Thus far, none have matched the wide-reaching success or controversy of Brown's book. Nevertheless, as The Beatles did in rock music, Dan Brown's novels have been instrumental in launching a whole genre, many of which are good reads. (And more than a few that are not.)

Recently I read one of a series of novels about a learned hero's quest to solve a historical mystery, with conspiracies, mythology and science as the main undercurrents. This author had rave reviews from major media outlets. I tried hard but couldn't get through this novel. I passed it on to a couple of others who had the same experience as me.

However, to be fair, there can be an upside to all this: Finding a book that lives up to the promotion is a little like winning a prize. Some examples:

I'm a Michael Crichton fan, so when I see a book that's likened to his work, my curiosity is piqued. Paul McEuen's debut, 'Spiral,' carried a sticker that pronounced: "Like Michael Crichton? You'll love this." On this occasion, they got it right.

McEuen delivers a heady blend of family drama, tense action and a scientific/medical premise involving the threat of a virus. Equally as important, he has that elusive storyteller's gift, a narrative flair that keeps the pages turning.

Douglas Preston is another writer who has been compared with Crichton. Preston's novel, 'Blasphemy,' is an epic roller-coaster ride of mystery/crime/political skullduggery/and a mind-blowing scientific concept. It will certainly appeal to those who enjoy layers of depth and food-for-thought driving the thriller plot, and is a favorite of mine. Another Preston novel, 'Impact,' is more a suspense thriller a la Cape Fear, but with strong scientific elements underlying and propelling the action.

I've scoured the bookshelves, both brick and mortar and online, to see dozens of titles crowing "the next Robert Ludlum," " as good as Clive Cussler," "move over John Grisham."

Some are. Most are not. Perhaps a little more originality in the hype would be good.

Early in her career, Kathy Reichs was likened to Patricia Cornwell, and as we know Reichs has established herself as a leader in her own right in the forensic crime genre, just as Gayle Lynds has done in the espionage field since the days when she was compared to Ludlum.

As for that irritating garage band at the end of the street, maybe I'll join the cats and spend a couple of nights out of town. My neighbour, Buggeroff, encourages them by dropping by and telling them how good they are. He even asked them for free tickets to their first gig, whenever they might be. (Hopefully never.) Buggeroff isn't helping.

Back in the book world, when a story junkie uncovers one that is as good, even better, than the unavoidable hype, then its akin to discovering a lost treasure after several attempts that led down blind alleys.

And that's the one and only other upside: the search can be half the fun.