Non-Accredited Book Reviews: Mick Jackson and Malinda Lo.

These be briefer than usual. With none of the usual excerpts.

I started Jackson’s The Underground Man a few weeks ago, and the combination of descriptive prose not immediately tied to an obvious “problem-resolution” plot structure, and an exhaustively busy schedule made for reading delays. Oh, how I loved the book though. I read Jackson’s short story collection, Ten Sorry Tales, two years ago, and admired the way he matches an understated narrative tone to events that are sorrowful and horrifying. The mixture of sorrow and horror also shows up in Jackson’s novel, though he replaces the detached omniscient narrator of his short stories with the first-person narrative (in the form of journal entries) of the “underground man”: his Grace, the duke, who is charming in his humour and eccentricities, and fascinating in his thought processes. (He’s fascinating enough that I barely acknowledged that most of the book is about a man walking in, about, and around his estate, not doing much of anything, and charming enough that the horror of one of the book’s penultimate scenes was already well in progress by the time I realised what was happening, so simply and good-humouredly as he describes it.) The book is generally concerned with aging, madness, disease, and death, and Jackson writes these things in such a way that it’s difficult to dismiss them as trivial or unfortunate experiences happening to “other” people.

Malinda Lo’s Ash is a retelling of the Cinderella story. I was a bit underwhelmed, at the outset: it’s a well-written story, for a young adult audience. I think the fact that the book doesn’t try to flag itself as a queer rewriting/defense, however, is what makes it so extraordinary. Certainly, coming from a feminist/queer theory background, the story’s inclusion of lesbian/bi-sexual relationships seemed utterly normal; and indeed, this is how the book portrays Ash’s queer sexuality — as something the other characters take as given — something which barely needs commenting upon (and certainly no justification). More at issue, for Ash and the other characters in the book, are the problems of cross-class, and mixed “racial” (one of her lovers is a fairy) relationships, as well as the problems of making sense of religion/superstition, of working through grief and mourning, and the confusion of loving two individuals at once. I wish I had been read this sort of fairy tale when I was younger.

24 January 2010 ~ Hamilton

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