I did not post yesterday about the Let the Great World Spin vs The Help matchup, at least not explicitly. I think dropping The Help was the only rational decision for someone who loves books. The judge made the right call. The reasoning, however, was lame. I almost get the feeling that no one wants to hurt Stockett’s feelings, or is it her fans? Alex Balk emphasized the closeness of the decision and gave the impression that a coin flip essentially made the decision, that and dialect. I wanted fireworks, but I get the next best thing: the last of The Help.
You are probably happy I will have no more opportunities to bash The Help.
Nicholas Sparks is still available to kick around. He takes it on the chin in today’s commentary about the The Lacuna vs. Burnt Shadows. Seems the commentators either didn’t read or didn’t like both books, so they turned their fine intellects to the task of Nick Sparks analysis. Good fun.
But, first, The Lacuna vs Burnt Shadows. I enjoyed Burnt Shadows, but thought it fell apart in the ending a bit. I also see the merit in others’ gripes that the story felt a little contrived and that the book seemed to morph from romance to spy thriller, passing through half a dozen other genres on the way. These are fair points, but not disqualifying. As today’s judge notes, Kamila Shamsie has a great eye for details and, as today’s judge did not note, she can write some beautiful sentences.
For a first novel [Thanks, Kevin From Canada; my apologies to everyone else] Her fifth novel, Burnt Shadows is something of which Shamsie can be proud. [But not as proud as if it had been her first.]
I did not enjoy The Lacuna. That is one reason you have not seen a separate The Lacuna post. The other reason is that I only finished about 80% of it in audiobook form before the library wanted it back. I was happy to oblige. Maybe there is only one reason you haven’t seen a The Lacuna post.
The reason I did not enjoy The Lacuna is that the most compelling characters were not the primary players. I suspect that the judge’s affinity for Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Trotsky (or their stories), enhanced her enjoyment of The Lacuna. The re-telling of the Frida-Diego-Trotsky story was easily the most compelling part of the 80% of the novel I read. The farther off-stage those characters went, the less engaging the novel became. I was also put off as the novel progressed and became more and more the story of Violet Brown rather than the purported protagonist Harrison Shepherd. The book is told in the form of a diary with snippets of (mostly fake) newspaper clippings and, worse, fan letters to Harrison Shepherd. There was also the issue that Ms. Kingsolver narrated the audiobook herself and made the decision to give Violet Brown a very odd way of enunciating words. She sometimes sounded like she was trying to imitate computer-generated speech. Maybe one of the late book surprises was that Violet Brown was a computer. That might change my opinion.
As for Kingsolver’s writing style, while there are some very fine metaphors, Kingsolver seems unable to write a sentence without a metaphor. Basically, I thought it was overwritten in places. Maybe underwritten in this one:
She slid her eyes toward the office window.
I wonder whether they picked up splinters along the way.
So, I would have voted for Burnt Shadows. I found it more engaging, I more thoroughly enjoyed Shamsie’s writing, and I thought Shamsie did a fair job of accomplishing her ambition. My appreciation of Kingsolver’s The Lacuna is obviously hampered by my failing to finish it, particularly as the final third is where the great surprises are. But I doubt I would have liked it more.
Having said all that, I do not think this was a bad decision, only one I would not have made.
TOB 2010 Contest Update:
Chris and Christy start out perfect in Round 2, which give them each a 9-8 advantage over former leader Lizzy. The rest of the field falls back, with a three-way tie for fourth at 6 points. I am one of those, but, because so many of my picks are too dead to be Zombies, I am no longer a threat to lead. The winner will easily best me.