Saturday, 9 October 2010
Getting this book hinged on a simple decision; left or right. I went right and it resulted in a mile walk across a city to a second hand book where I found Warriors, Into the Wild for a small fee of two pounds. If I had gone left I would have found an Oxfam bookstore practically next door to my start location. And I would have found a cheaper book.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Warriors. The blurb is ‘cats live in wood, kill each other’ so I thought this could be an entertaining fast-paced read... or another psycho-mole thing. Luckily, it was the former. The book is written in a way that doesn’t give you time to get bored. It’s concise and to the point, as you would expect from a book of 272 pages, and there is no padding and enough description to give you a feel for the surroundings.
At first I would have said the book was written for a young audience, maybe ten plus, but some of the word choices make me think this wasn’t intended to be the case. I would like to think I know a lot of words so when I saw ‘caterwauling’ for the first time, I began to reassess the target and by the end of the book... I still had no idea.
There was also one thing that didn’t make sense and that was the way the main character Rusty/Firepaw/Fireheart (such is the pace of the novel, he undergoes two name changes) perceives the world around him. Firstly, as a cat who lives near a road, I would expect him to be familiar with the concept, but when he encounters a road with the wild cats, he’s like, ‘eh, what’s that black thing?’ The second thing, and probably the more important, is that adapts ridiculously fast to his new life away from his comfy bed and free food. Normally I wouldn’t have a problem with this if he was revealed as the son of some lion cat or some kind of chosen one, but he’s just a regular house cat, and yet he is better than the ones born and raised in the wild at hunting. It doesn’t make sense. There are five more books in the series and I want to find them just to find out if Rusty/Firepaw/Fireface is later to be revealed as son-of-lion or chosen one.
Oh, and while I’m talking about stuff that doesn’t make sense, there is a bit where one of the older cats explains about their ancestors – namely being lions and tigers and bea... ahem, I mean leopards. But these animals never lived in the same habitats, unless they were in a zoo, so it doesn’t make any sense. This kind of assumption leads me to believe that the book is meant for a younger audience, one who Erin Hunter has assumed, won’t know any better.
While I’m on a role the indents are wrong. When there is a break in time in the same chapter, you do not indent the first line, yet Erin Hunter indents throughout, but at least she is consistent. It would have been worse if she had changed half way through.
Despite all the negativity, Warriors is something that many other books are not; enjoyable. I would recommend it to friends and cat lovers alike. Saying that, if you don’t cats, it’s probably not you.
Warriors, Into the Wild by Erin Hunter was published by Working Partners Ltd in 2003. RRP £5.99 (Paperback)
I bought this one as a hardback because I chose to do a critical analysis of how the book was received, you know, critically. I found myself, having not read the book, defending it against harsh criticism from James Wood at London Review of Books. However, nearly a year later, having found the time (and I don’t use that word lightly) to read the book, I also found myself agreeing with James Wood.
Reviews of The Children’s Book state that the novel consists of a combination of the life of the characters and Olive Wellwood’s children’s fiction. This is a gross over exaggeration. There were no more than 10 pages of Olive’s writing out of the 615 comprising the novel. And these pages aren’t the smallest either.
Many people think this book is about how the writing and social lives of Olive and Humphry affect their children, and why shouldn’t they? It states as much in the blurb. But at one point I was reading, and for a considerable amount of time, about mining and then about banking. Oh, and there’s loads of stuff about pottery and how to make pots, and how it was hard in the late eighteen hundreds.
What I’m trying to get at here is that, at some point, the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction become quite thin, and that’s putting it mildly and being polite. If the novel was about the blurb it would be half the length and better for it.
Byatt has done her research and credit to her for going to such lengths but there is a point where the research becomes the novel. The story is drowned by the facts and the characters are strangled by each other (not literally).
There is one scene reasonably early where Byatt decides to introduce the entire cast of the novel in one scene. One scene in which I had no idea what was going on, but that might be down to the fact that I don’t know about the works of H.G. Wells. Or how to manipulate silver.
There were also a few little things throughout that irked me, granted, not as badly as they irked James Wood who managed an outstanding 3,000 words on the subject. Byatt makes the mistake of writing ‘though’ instead of ‘thought’ on more than two occasions. There is one sentence that reads, ‘He observed her observing his observations’ which pretty much sums up Byatt’s over-zealous need to inform the readers of exactly what’s going on.
Later, Byatt uses, and not for the first time, ‘at the time’ from a narrative stand-point, which removes the reader from the story. Most of these events don’t add anything to the story. About half way through, Byatt spends thirty pages talking about twentieth century art when none of the characters are artists (in the painting sense, anyway.) It’s basically the author going, ‘Look! Look at all this stuff I know about! Aren’t I clever! MEEE!!!’
Another unnecessary and repeated scene shows us one of the characters, Philip, masturbating. I mean, I understand that these characters are young and learning things but if you go to someone’s house after they rescue you from a museum basement, you probably shouldn’t wank into their clean handkerchiefs. And if you do, I certainly don’t want to know about it, especially when I’m supposed to be learning about pots and German history pre-World War I.
Oh, and for the record, why should I care if The Kaiser killed 84 out of 134 foxes on a fox hunt?
I would recommend this book to members of the literary community and those who enjoy dreamy, vivid, imaginative... no, that’s not it. Those who enjoy heavily researched, over-written prose. Maybe I'm being unfair or maybe I’m not smart enough to enjoy the book for what it is. But in the words of Ben Crowshaw, I’d rather be stupid and having fun than be bored out of my huge genius mind.
The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt was published by Chatto & Windus in 2009. RRP £18.99 (Hardback) £7.99 (Paperback)]
To read James Wood’s critique of A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book, visit: