Saturday, October 19, 2013

Review: The Orenda, by Joseph Boyden

The OrendaThe Orenda by Joseph Boyden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Simply put, Joseph Boyden's The Orenda is a timeless and imperative read for every Canadian. Even if you're not Canadian, you should read this novel. It will edify, illuminate, shatter, and complete your understanding of society during 17th century First Nations and European first contact. That The Orenda did not make the short list for either the Giller or the GG is quite incomprehensible. If ever there were a novel, and an author, worthy of our attention, our praise, and our accolades, it is The Orenda and Joseph Boyden.

Quite beyond The Orenda's importance in the canon of Canadian literature, it is a compelling read. (And for me one near and dear to my heart, given my own short story, And the Angels Sang, which formed the keystone story for my collection by the same name.)

Boyden tells the story of the Iroquoian pogrom against the Wyandot (Huron) peoples, which culminated in the destruction of the Jesuit mission at Ste. Marie among the Hurons in present day Midland, and the legendary torture and execution of St. Jean de Brebeuf.

While Boyden chooses fictional names for the people involved in this historic occurrence, the historical integrity and framework remains.

The story itself is told in first person, present-tense narratives through three voices, that of Snow Falls, an Iroquoian girl orphaned and captured by a Huron warrior; that of Bird, the warrior responsible for Snow Falls' plight and who subsequently adopts her; and Father Christophe, the Jesuit, or Crow, who comes among the Huron to bring his version of redemption and salvation to the sauvages.

Boyden sculpts these characters with a deft hand, so they are fully realized, living entities with voices so strong they haunt your thoughts. There is no confusion when progressing chapter to chapter who speaks, a feat not easily accomplished unless at the hand of a confident writer.

The pacing is brisk, tense, never flagging, and even if a reader weren't aware of the history about which Boyden writes, there would be a sense of drums thundering beneath the text, of doom echoing through the forests.

All of these components are fused together with Boyden's trademark style, employing spare language, each word chosen for precise impact. This is a lean story which is, in contrast, defiantly rich and satiating.

Whether you choose to immerse yourself in The Orenda by way of eBook or print, I assure you these hours you spend reading will be profound and memorable.

Bravo, Joseph. Miigwech.

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Friday, October 18, 2013

Review: The Memoirs of Cleopatra, by Margaret George

The Memoirs Of CleopatraThe Memoirs Of Cleopatra by Margaret George
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

To pick up a Margaret George novel is to experience a well-researched epic work. The Memoirs of Cleopatra is no exception.

George presents a very intimate story of the legendary Cleopatra, who took a bankrupt, teetering country to its pinnacle of wealth, prosperity and influence, despite overwhelming setbacks and obstacles.

My only quibble, as always with George's work, is a certain reservation in the depth of her characters which she tends to move around on the board of her story like set pieces.

Beyond that, an absorbing read.

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Saturday, October 5, 2013

Response to Liz Bourke at Strange Horizons

Normally when a negative review (which thankfully are few) for one of my books appears I just shrug. We all have different aesthetics, points of view, something the Internet has allowed us to share through social media.

So it was when I raised the very public hackles of Liz Bourke, reviewer for Strange Horizons, I merely allowed Ms. Bourke her opinion about my novel From Mountains of Ice and carried on.

It would seem, however, her review garnered the notice of another blogger at Pornokitsch, under the heading of Extremist Reviewing. The author of Pornokitsch found great humour in Liz Bourke's evisceration (the author's term, not mine) of my novel, enough to Tweet and generally share around the multiverse. That, also, is fine. Again, we all must find humour, entertainment, and share opinion in order to expand our horizons and understanding of life.

One of Ms. Bourke's strident objections read thusly:
But the first and perhaps the most severe of my problems with From Mountains of Ice is its lack of willingness to abide by the usual conventions of English-language punctuation. Particularly where it comes to commas.
a fluid list of titles and salutations, professions of greatest love and longing, veiled accusations of betrayal through Sylvio's absence, enforced though it might have been, earnest wishes to redress absence. Just the fact Carmelo singled him out was fraught with potential, none of it with hope. (p. 75)
Phrases, especially descriptive phrases, come tacked together with commas when it would be more comprehensible (and less horribly irritating) to use more than one sentence. Several sentences have more commas than they need. Several suffer from a mysterious dearth of commas, where a comma would have added to comprehensibility or to the ordinary flow of prose.
Carried by the outgoing tide they'd be swept out to sea, just as she. (p. 107)
Having laid that foundation, I would therefore entreat both Ms. Bourke and her followers to consider the following passage:
Also — for there had been more than a few migrants aboard, yes, quite a quantity of wives who had been grilled by reasonable, doing-their-job officials about the length of and distinguishing moles upon their husbands’ genitalia, a sufficiency of children upon whose legitimacy the British Government had cast its ever-reasonable doubts — mingling with the remnants of the plain, equally fragmented, equally absurd, there floated the debris of the soul, broken memories, sloughed-off selves, severed mother-tongues, violated privacies, untranslatable jokes, extinguished futures, lost loves, the forgotten meaning of hollow, booming words, land, belong, home.
The author of this passage is guilty, according to conventional wisdom, of egregious writing abuse. I remember clearly reading this passage a few years ago, and those which came before, and after, and the whole dizzying effect of this tumbling narrative. I sat stunned after closing the novel, aware I looked into the face of genius for the second time in my life. Suddenly all I had been taught meant nothing confronted with this monumental art.

I hear your disparagement even now. What kack, Lorina, you say. This is a run-on sentence, incomprehensible, nonsensical. Tripe, to be polite. Unmitigated shite if not.

So? Ah yes so.

The author: Salman Rushdie. The work: The Satanic Verses.

Something to give you pause, eh? A slight blush. Perhaps an ahem or two? I know the feeling.

Now, far be it from me to compare my work to Salman Rushdie's. But there is inspiration here. There is a great deal to study, to comprehend, to emulate. Think about the artistic and emotional effect of that passage by Rushdie.

It has long been said in order to create art you need to understand the rules. And then you need to understand how to break the rules.

And just as that work of art may not be everyone's taste, before slagging it, consider your own biases as a reviewer, whether you're reviewing painting, sculpture, music or literature. This is something I try to remember when I review literature. A review should not be a wholesale condemnation of the worth of a thing. A review is, and only ever will be, one person's opinion. Your trash may be someone else's treasure.

Just saying.