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secondhand reflections

Set me aflame and cast me free,
Away, you wretched worlds of tethers...


There are many words and phrases that should be forever kept out of the hands of book reviewers. It's sad, but true. And one of these is "self-indulgent." Whoever reviewed Neil's new novel, Anansi Boys, for Kirkus calls it "self-indulgent" (though the review is, generally, positive). And this is one of those things that strikes me very odd, like reviewers accusing an author of writing in a way that seems "artificial" or "self-conscious." It is, of course, a necessary prerequisite of fiction that one employ the artifice of language and that one exist in an intensely self-conscious state. Same with "self-indulgent." What could possibly be more self-indulgent than the act of writing fantastic fiction? The author is indulging her- or himself in the expression of the fantasy, and, likewise, the readers are indulging themselves in the luxury of someone else's fantasy. I've never written a story that wasn't self-indulgent. Neither has any other fantasy or sf author. We indulge our interests, our obsessions, and assume that someone out there will feel as passionately about X as we do.

I did manage to get Chapter Seven of Daughter of Hounds begun yesterday (indulging my own fascinations with old railroad tunnels, underground places in general, shadows, burnt-out automobiles, and mildew). It was a modest beginning, only 1,104 words, but that's decent. It's something to act as a foundation. But I am starting to fear this book. It's not unusual, that I find myself fearing a novel as I near it's completion. It happened with both Threshold and Murder of Angels. But here I am, past typescript-page 400 (as of yesterday), and I still have two seperate narrative threads. I thought that they would come together towards the middle of the book, but now we're past the middle of the book and, though they are bridged here and there, they remain divided. Partly, this is an artefact of the story's having been compacted by Roc's desires to keep it under 150,000 words. Partly, it's just some strange thing that seems beyond my control. I begin to wonder if there's actually some purpose in it. I don't want to force a confluence, as I hate the feeling that I'm forcing a story this way or that when it seems to have other things in mind. But I am near to forcing it, anyway. I can already imagine the comments from reviewers, the ones who will go on about how better the book would have been if only the two narrative threads had been united early on. But that's not what happened. That's not the way this story is happening. If I force it, I might break the whole thing apart.

Nothing much to say about yesterday. The mosquitoes are eating me alive. It happens every summer. They prefer my blood to Spooky's. I don't want to be delicious, anymore. What else? After Darkness, I wanted to see something else by director Jaume Balagueró. We chose The Nameless (Los Sin nombre; 1999), because it was based (to some degree) on Ramsey's novel of the same name. Sadly, it wasn't nearly as effective as Darkness, though it covered much of the same ground. But I'm open to the possibility that the film was so marred by the atrocious dubbing job (I just wasn't up to subtitles last night) that it would be unfair of me to judge it until after I've seen it in Spanish. Also, I started playing Pariah on XBox. So far, it's a particularly claustrophobic fps. The game's world is well-rendered, the voice acting's better than usual, and the music's quite good — but I can't help but feel I'm playing Halo 2 over again or that I've only unlocked some secret side-mission. And that's probably not a fair estimate, either. I hate it when reviewers dismiss something for not being "original." Originality is the most deadly mirage in all of art. You can chase it from now until doomsday, and you'll only find yourself lost and dying of thirst. Anyway, that was yesterday.

Comments

robyn_ma
Jul. 24th, 2005 03:44 pm (UTC)
'I've never written a story that wasn't self-indulgent. Neither has any other fantasy or sf author.'

Neither has any author of fiction, regardless of genre. In fact, neither has any writer, period. The very act of writing assumes that the reader is interested in what the writer is saying, whether the writer is writing about vampire clowns or the stock market. The only form of non-self-indulgent writing would probably be technical writing.

I suspect that what reviewers mean when they say 'self-indulgent' is that, either in parts or as a whole, the author's interests have disconnected from the reviewer's interests, and the author is going on about something or pursuing an interest that for some reason makes the reviewer say 'Okay, we get it, moving along now.' It's not a terribly precise term. The fault is neither in the author nor in the reader — it's simply a disconnect — but 'self-indulgent' is probably a column-inch-saving way of saying 'I think Ms. Authorpants goes on a bit here with the vampire clowns, but fans of vampire clowns may appreciate it more than I did.'
greygirlbeast
Jul. 24th, 2005 03:48 pm (UTC)
Neither has any author of fiction, regardless of genre. In fact, neither has any writer, period. The very act of writing assumes that the reader is interested in what the writer is saying,

Ahmet.