I did manage to get out of the house yesterday for a short walk, just over to Freedom Park. Everything is blooming — daisy fleabane, clover, dandelions, etc. There was a wonderful wind from the northwest and spectacular clouds heralding the change in the weather, the sort of sky that makes we want to climb to the top of an especially tall hill, raise my arms, and howl at the sky. The low last night was 52F, which is today's forecast high, with a low of 27F. So, we shall have a taste of winter after all. Spooky made spicy Thai food for dinner. There was not much more to yesterday than that.
We also finished Christopher Priest's The Prestige (1995) last night. On the one hand, it is a fine novel. On the other hand...I find that I have recently acquired an odd reticence to actually criticize the work of other living writers. My reasons, as best I can discern, are twofold:
1) The author might be reading this journal. It's happened before.
2) I've been making my living, such as it is, as a writer since the mid nineties, and it has caused me to look more kindly on the perceived shortcomings of others.
Basically, I wish I could read the way I used to read. I did not dissect as I read. I simply became immersed in the story and let it sweep me happily along. Now I cannot help but dissect. I try not to, but I do anyway. I cannot help but see "flaws" and all the ways I think I could have done this better. I would suspect that all writers are like this, to one degree or another. Writers are the gods of their universes, and we are never at a loss to suggest how some other god might better run herhisits universe/s. At least, this is true of me. It is one reason I read so much less fiction than I did fifteen years ago. And, actually, stage magic is not a bad metaphor for this problem I now have as a reader. I am precisely like a magician watching another magician's act. I should be suckered in with the rest of the crowd. I passionately desire to have the wool pulled over my eyes. Only it very rarely happens, as I'm too busy figuring out how it's all being done and how I could improve upon it.
Which is to say, The Prestige is a fine novel. But I would have done it differently, and I think that means I would have done it better. I cannot help but think that. I also wonder how seeing the film first changed my perception of the novel. Personally, I think it's a book that could stand to lose the first twenty eight pages and the final eleven — the whole present-day frame. It is neither needed, nor are those characters sufficiently well-developed to compete with the meat of the book, the story of the feud between magicians Angier and Borden. If the frame is to be part of the story, at least another one hundred pages is needed to truly make those characters real to the reader. And if the frame goes, I'd also cut Part Three, Kate Angier's diary. Pare this down to the story of magicians Angier and Borden, as the film wisely does, and you do not have a fine novel, you might have a great novel. Or that's the way it seems to me. As it stands, Andrew Westley and Kate Angier and the late 20th Century are only a distraction and the source of a number of problems with the internal logic of the novel. I would also suggest that the story might have been relayed more effectively had "Alfred" Borden and Rupert Angier's journals been broken up and presented in alternating sections. I adore epistolary storytelling, and I usually point to Stoker's Dracula as a stellar example of how this is done well. Alternate between characters.
Nonetheless, it is, as I have twice said, a fine novel. I am not seeking to damn it with faint praise. I just can't help but read it as a novelist. This is, from my perspective, unfortunate. I don't want to know how the trick works. I want to be amazed. I want to be convinced of the magic. But this is what I do. I spend my days gluing words together to try and fool other people. And I can't help but try to see how other writers, especially writers who have found more commercial success than have I, make it work. Sadly, I don't even find the mechanics & theory of fiction writing remotely interesting, which makes this doubly frustrating. It's just a reflex.
Now, it's time to write.