I have found recently that it is taking me ages to read a book. It’s not because I’m not caring about the characters. The books where the characters leave me cold end up on the ‘I’ll finish reading it when I can be arsed’ pile which has expanded remarkably over the years. I really ought to dump them. No, with these recent books it’s because I care so much about the characters and I see so much nastiness rolling towards them that I have to take small sips of the story to keep my anxiety for the characters at a low level. This was the case with The Windup Girl where disaster was obviously hovering, waiting to pounce on all the characters. It was the case with ‘Swordspoint’ where I really cared about Alec and De Vries and wanted them to have a nice comfortable life. How likely is that for a swordsman and his lover? Even worse, I’m currently reading `Blueheart’ which I have to take in a couple of pages at a time. The stakes are high. The characters are working with incomplete information and all trying to do their best within their somewhat compromised ethical frameworks. Once I’ve read the entire book and the tension is resolved I’ll be able to read it again with a level of comfort and probably enjoy it far more.
In this case, ironically, it is the art of the novelist that makes this so difficult to read. If I felt that it would all end happily ever after (as in Doctor Who or any series novel) I would be far less anxious (but it would be far less meaningful). The books that have knocked me sideways and have left me changed have never been the comfortable ones. ‘The Eye of the Heron’, ‘Golden Witchbreed’ and ‘Ancient Light’ (damn you Mary Gentle!) and ‘Woman at the End of Time’, for example, were never easy reading but neither have they disappeared into the morass of ‘books that I have read but can’t clearly recall’. A couple of days in Blackpool with no useful internet connectivity has forced me to get half way through Blueheart. An evening in Reading may well complete it. I’m hoping the denouement will be meaningful without being too searing. I hope Rache, Lisel Teal and Cybele all survive.
What happened to Alison Sinclair anyway? Two excellent SF novels (Legacies and Blueheart), a less stellar book (Cavalcade), a joint SF then three fantasy novels. Why do women end up writing fantasy? Lack of recognition? Lack of sales? I’ll have a look at the new stuff. Perhaps it’s as fab as the SF?