Saturday, 17 July 2010

Steve Voake - The Dreamwalker's Child

Acquiring books is often more fun than reading them. I got my hands on this one at an author’s reading, where there was wine, and I had it signed by the author, making it my first ever signed book.

There are a lot of good things to be said about The Dreamwalker’s Child. It has an original story, (insects being piloted by tiny people from another world,) believable characters (which is an excellent achievement considering the influx of child characters who act older than their age) and it’s very clean and well written (in fact, easily the best on this list so far).

However, with all the good bits, (and I will say now that I enjoyed the book), my cynical side came up with a few things worth mentioning.

Firstly, the opening chapter is written in a way more suited to a young audience compared to the rest of the book. The audience seems to be between four and seven judging from the opening page, but later in the novel, a man is torn apart by a giant ant! It’s a bit distant from the ‘colours and sounds and wonderful things’ from the first page.

Early on, there is a formatting mistake with line spacing. This isn’t Steve’s fault, but it does look odd. What is Steve’s fault though, is a line from the lead bad guy Odoursin, where he speaks over a loud speaker to the main protagonist Sam: ‘I know you’re here Sam... I can feel it.’ After I’d gotten over my initial fit of laughter, I was reminded of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker... only we already know who Sam’s father is so unless there is some other deep connection between the two, Odoursin being able to ‘feel it’ is an unnecessary cliché.

Odoursin can also be likened to Hitler with the amount of Nazi symbolism thrown into the bad guys. They dress like the SS and I swear one of them even had blonde hair and blue eyes. This almost led me to believe Odoursin’s main evil motive was to propagate the master race, but that’s a bit heavy for a kid’s book.

As far as the length of the book goes, it’s well paced and spread out evenly over the 300 pages. The only cut I would make would be removing chapter 25 as the stuff about Sam’s parents doesn’t add anything to the story.

The setting was another thing that puzzled me. I had no idea when the book was set and looking at all the cultural references, there is only one that really places the book in any era. It’s really cleverly put in and shows the skill of the author as he doesn’t make any slips regarding setting ambiguity.

I would recommend The Dreamwalker’s Child to any parents with children aged nine plus. And there are some enjoyable bits for adults too. It’s acclaimed to be one of the best books for its target audience and I would agree. Or suffer the wrath of Darth Voake.

The Dreamwalker’s Child by Steve Voake was published by Faber and Faber in 2005. RRP £6.99 (Paperback)

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

William Horwood - Duncton Wood

I found this book on my Mother’s bookshelf, which maybe should have been a warning but the back of the book sold it to me. ‘Lord of the Rings out of Watership Down. I liked Lord of the Rings so I thought that Dunction Wood could have a lot for me to enjoy. However, I failed to acknowledge the fact that Watership Down scared the crap out of me as a child and my common sense must have abandoned me because moles can’t use swords or bows.

Dunction Wood deals with a lot of issues including but not limited to: childhood isolation, parental abandonment, bereavement, disability discrimination, the difficulties of puberty, baby murder, building your own home, rape, incest and incest rape. You would think with this list of things that the book spreads itself too thin. This is exactly the case because, at 730 pages, it’s unnecessarily long. With the book’s over ambitious approach to getting so much in, it has a lot wrong with it, so much so that I probably couldn’t list them all in a 10,000 word dissertation, so here is my top 5, in reverse order.

Number 5: Length. I’ve already mentioned the length of the book. Out of the 730 pages, 300 could be cut due to unnecessary details, a further 200 for over-description and the remaining 230 would make quite a fantastic read. If not for my other 4 issues...

Number 4: Using ‘mole’ instead of ‘one.’ This is a personal thing and it only made me angry after reading the afterword. Horwood says he describes the mole as ‘seeing’ when they are seeing with their sense of smell and hearing. But he still refers to them as ‘somemole, nomole, anymole.’ It doesn’t make sense that the author is worried about moles not seeing, reading or writing when the characters don’t consider themselves beings. Humans don’t walk around saying things like, ‘is anyperson there?’ so why the hell would a mole say it?

Number 3: POV. Sometimes the point of view changes three times in the same paragraph which would be fine if it was done for a reason or there was some kind of control involved, but it reads like lazy writing and can become quite confusing. At one point I read on for a page after the POV changed thinking I was still with the mole, when actually, it was a dog lash wolf thing. Oh, the dogwolf was afraid of the mole. But that’s believable because these moles can read (William Horwood would like to state that when he says ‘read’ he actually means, ‘read brail through touch.’)

Number 2: Poetic language. Poetic language can be excellent if used well and in the right places. However, Horwood uses it sporadically and while this could be to highlight the mood in the Dunction System, it’s used too far apart to be the case. There is a lot of it in the beginning, with alliteration and colourful language but as the novel grows longer, Horwood seems to lose interest in it which, again, is a sign of laziness. Because of its inconsistency, it has a negative effect on the flow and pace of the novel.

Number 1: General writing style. Out of the books I’ve already looked at on here, Dunction Wood is a cross between A Cavern of Black Ice and The Book of Mormon. It’s not a great combination. The two aspects don’t work well together and over the last 300 pages, I was literally dragging myself to the end, not completely kicking and screaming but it felt more like hard work than anything else. The narrative is so distant for such a long time it’s hard to empathise with any of the moles/characters/dogwolves.

If you love moles and want to hear about mole love, mole hills and mole rape this book is definitely for you. My summary of the book? ‘Here are some moles.’ Enjoy.

Dunction Wood by William Horwood was published by somemole at Country Life Books in 1980. The paperback edition was published by another mole at Hamlyn in 1981. RRP £1.95 (1981) Book is currently out of print.