Patrick Ness — “The Crane Wife”

Patrick Ness, best known for his stunning YA sci-fi trilogy Chaos Walking, and more recently the award-winning and devastating A Monster Calls, returns to bookshelves and electronic devices with the beautiful, hauntingly drawn contemporary fable The Crane Wife.

The Crane Wife

Full of eerie resonances, elegantly poetic precision and a whole other world shimmering just beyond our view (a world we’ll never be able to fully comprehend, a lack of comprehension that is both blissful and upsetting), Ness has conjured up a story that is epic, moving, an ocean of emotion whose mostly calm surface hides a roiling current deep, deep beneath.

It wouldn’t do the book justice, and it would detract from the reading experience, to fully detail what does or does not happen. Suffice it to say, The Crane Wife begins with an ordinary man who discovers a crane with an arrow through its wing in his garden late one moonlit night. This event (or dream) is the catalyst for a series of events that ripple powerfully through the lives of George, his daughter Amanda, and Kumiko, a mysterious woman who seems to be the source of all hope and despair.

To reveal any more would be invidious. Ness weaves extraordinary fables into the most rainy-day, quotidian mundanities, as his characters’ lives are gradually illuminated from without and within. In the best possible way, this novel explodes with symbolism – but come back, because it’s the very best kind – poetic, subtle, capable of shaping and reshaping your emotions. Ness’s careful, elegant style ensures that every word means something. This is a pared-back experience that fills you with longing. In this novel, the quietest of symbols can cause your emotions to roar.

chaos walking trilogy

Literary fiction, generally, has not been as lively or truthful as YA fiction of late, a situation vastly exacerbated by Ness’s own contributions to YA (The Knife Of Never Letting Go, The Ask And The Answer, and Monsters Of Men are three of the most extraordinary novels ever written in any genre or category). The list of extraordinary literary novels in the last few years is sadly short: Hilary Mantel’s revelatory Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies, and Haruki Murakami’s hypnotic and brilliant work of absolute genius 1Q84 (possibly the greatest example of literary fiction of all time, and itself a contemporary fable shuddering with immense hidden power and unseen forces) are the pinnacles.

They are now joined by The Crane Wife.

This is a novel that will transport you in all kinds of ways; whether you read it in bed, at the breakfast table, on the tube or the subway, or surreptitiously while at work, it will work its patient magic on you, and it will linger in your mind and heart long after you’ve put it down.

 

5 out of 5 tiles (it’ll make sense when you read it)

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The Last Werewolf

I finished Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf in a state of breathless, delirious, heart-pounding wonder at the sheer goddamn power of words.

The experience of reading it feels thrillingly like the transformation that narrator Jake Marlowe endures every full moon, in his position as the last werewolf alive. Each sentence pulses with the throb of conceptual power and melancholy; each sentence has velocity and snap, like live-wires crackling.

Jake is, understandably, somewhat jaded and dissolute, having been alive for two hundred years, and facing the prospect of two hundred more. Finding out he’s just become the last of his kind only adds to his draining ennui. Especially since his mortal enemy, Grainer, leader of the Hunt and representative of WOCOP (World Organization for the Control of Occult Phenomena), has vowed to claim Jake’s scalp for himself at the next full moon. Jake knows it, and has a plan for waiting it out until then.

Naturally, things go quickly and massively awry. It’s a novel; what did you expect?

The narrative powers relentlessly along with genre-bending, mind-blowing velocity. It’s full of mythic arcs, James Bond-style thrills, Inception-level reversals, adrenaline-provoking twists, wickedly postmodern flourishes and scene after scene of undeniable beauty, savagery, poetry and sensuality.

The fact is, this book about a werewolf will show you exactly what it means to be human; will swell and fill your awareness of what being human means, and expand it accordingly.

In this sense — sentences of remarkable power, thrilling intelligence and gorgeous luminosity — The Last Werewolf is akin to Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, which, depsite being about Thomas Cromwell in the court of Henry VIII, was (metaphorically) darkly populated with its own particular brand of vampires and werewolves, and was forged in the complex, conceptual machinations of humanity at its darkest; and therefore illuminated us all.

If there’s any justice, The Last Werewolf will win the Man Booker Prize, just as Wolf Hall did.

As a writer, The Last Werewolf is one of those rare books that’s so jaw-droppingly brilliant, it stops you in your tracks, demanding one of two responses: (1) you stop what you’re doing right there, because this is just too damn good; (2) you take a deep breath, roll up your sleeves, and do it again, only better — step up even more, and make yourself a better writer. Spoiler: I’m choosing the second option. This book shows you exactly what is possible with words; creates a vertigo-inducing ontological shift: you never knew literature could be this pulse-quickeningly, heart-poundingly, world-shatteringly fantastic.

It makes you fall in love with words, with writing, all over again, even more than before. It pulls you in just as the moon drags the wolf through the blood of the human and pulls it out, snarling and wild and alive, seeing the world in a million glinting details you never noticed before. It shatters and rebuilds your perceptual world. It’s exhilarating in its transformative power.

It’s f**king good.

Read it.

Now.

P.S. please also visit the book’s website, www.thelastwerewolf.org, which is a brilliant example of how to promote a book in a rich, multi-dimensional way.

2010: A Year Of Black Swans

2010 has been a unique year in culture. It was a year of chaos and a million little details, the year of Twitter and hashtags, the year of ‘that Facebook movie.’ It was a year of significant endings, notably with Lost and 24 coming to a close after six and eight years respectively, and the publication of Mockingjay closing out the Hunger Games trilogy.

It was also a year of wonderful discoveries and surprises. This post is dedicated to those cultural events: moments that seemed to defy expectation and hope, or seemed to come out of nowhere, but in retrospect, made absolute and wonderful sense. Cultural items that approached the status of perfection in the midst of an unruly, chaotic year. Seven cultural moments that captured and defined this element of welcome surprise.

These are the Black Swans of 2010.

(1) Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan.

The fierce intelligence of Natalie Portman’s haunting performance alone would put Black Swan on this list, but there was so much more to talk about in Aronofsky’s always surprising, moving and terrifying ode to the relentless search for perfection. It’s a favorite theme on this blog, the lengths to which an artist must go to bring us the truth, the extent to which they must go into the darkness to bring back the light (particularly here, and here). Aronofsky’s beautiful, painful retelling of Swan Lake is a near-perfect capturing of this struggle, this destructive of question of how far we are willing to go for art, for the thing we love. The screenplay by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John McLaughlin was a deft reworking of the tale, and Clint Mansell’s wonderful score masterfully interwove Tchaikovsky’s themes with a darker, more electronic menace.

(2) Wolf Hall.

Hilary Mantel’s extraordinary novel told the life of Thomas Cromwell in luminous, preternaturally poetic prose that had a rawness and directness as she incisively laid bare the brutal psychology of the man and his world, turning the events of Henry VIII’s time with Anne Boleyn into a superior, terrifying and ultimately haunting thriller. The sheer brilliance on display is staggering. The only response as a writer is to bow down before it, and then raise your game accordingly. One of the most best written, plotted and executed novels of all time; this is no exaggeration.

(3)(a) Colin Firth’s revelatory performance in The King’s Speech.

This wasn’t surprising in itself – the man is a fantastic actor, who sublimates the full panoply of human emotion into such subtle, compelling renderings – but what was surprising was the way it took him from his habitual under-the-radar brilliance to a more publicly noted recognition, which hopefully will result in an Oscar for Firth, who seems to be criminally underrated at these events.

(3)(b) Colin Firth’s sparring with Geoffrey Rush in The King’s Speech.

It was a huge pleasure to watch Firth’s tightly-wound, emotionally fraught monarch-in-waiting go up against the magisterial ease and laconic skill of Geoffrey Rush’s speech therapist. Watching these two highly skilled performers go at it was never going to be anything other than excellent, but their scenes together truly elevated the movie. Both are extremely skilled technically, but both know how to submerge all that in simple truth, beautiful details that reveal soul, a life of emotional pain in the flickering of eyelids, a cry for help from a man with no voice, the response from the man with many who needs to find which is true. Exhilarating.

(4) Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross’s score for The Social Network.

The way David Fincher used this brilliant electronic score to add the most important layer to The Social Network, giving it a deep, dark sci-fi edge, and adding the thrilling, exhilarating element of creativity and innovation happening before our eyes. The screenplay was beyond outstanding, one of Aaron Sorkin’s best, and Fincher was absolutely at the top of his game in the way he layered in the speed of thought, the scheming psychologies, the sheer sense of invention – but it was the score that made this movie exceptional.

(5) Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

I blogged extensively about this album here. Simply put, this album was a raging against the light, a paean to creativity and innovation unleashed and uncensored. Thrilling to listen to, it laid out Kanye West’s interior world in all its fabulous, deranged and joyous glory. Given the darkness from which West had to emerge, it’s simultaneously all the more remarkable and all the more likely that he would return with a barnstorming, take no prisoners set of tracks is likely his opus, his masterwork.

(6) The rise of Emma Stone.

Her warm, witty, engaging ascension to stardom with her never less than brilliant performance in Easy A elevated Stone from her previous roles as cute, funny girl who stole scenes, to her natural arena: owning a movie from start to finish, and marrying a raw emotional soul to a killer sense of comedy and goofiness. Smart, engaging, warm, and funny as hell. It wasn’t unexpected, in fact it was long overdue, but the way it happened was one of the more happy surprises of the year. A true leading lady.

(7) The renewal of Southland.

I blogged about Southland when it first started on NBC here, and why TNT should renew Southland here. Despite the show’s diamond-hard brilliance, its brutally unsentimental yet deeply moving shooting, acting and writing style, such a renewal was not guaranteed. The show had a rough beginning, getting canceled by NBC mid-production on season two, but thankfully TNT realized they had hold of one of the sharpest, most real, raw and immediate cop dramas ever made, and did the right thing. The renewal was a true black swan event, seemingly impossible yet utterly necessary. It was above all a huge relief: in so many ways, Southland is unparalleled in the world of TV drama. Season three commences on 1/4/2011.

Honorable mentions:

AMC’s The Walking Dead, Christopher Nolan’s Inception.

The one…

If I had to choose one of these seven black swans to truly represent the defining cultural truth of 2010… well, that would be a tough choice. Of these, which was the most thrilling, exhilarating, perfectly detailed and beautiful moment of the year? Perhaps unsurprisingly, my choice would be Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, which said everything about beauty, perfection, drive, talent, and creativity, and did it all with a melancholy and ferocious brilliance.

Next time, on Dreaming Between The Lines...

Coming soon in 2011… a review of Southland season three, a look at YA fiction, the state of TV drama, and more.

Happy New Year!