Sunday, 15 April 2012

Stephen King - The Dark Tower

34 years. 7 books. 3,847 pages. That it essentially The Dark Tower in numbers. In essence, it didn’t actually take 34 years to write. If it did, Stephen King wouldn’t have published the other ninety-jabillion books that now circulate the globe. But in a scale of time from first to last word, 34 years is how it will be measured.
The main question is; can a work of such length spanning over 30 years be consist and coherent? The short answer; no. The long answer; see below.
Now firstly it is worth mentioning that The Dark Tower is one of the great modern literary achievements and was thoroughly enjoyable to read which, I believe, is the main point of books.

The first book, The Gunslinger, is an excellent introduction and works in the same way as the first season of Lost in that it sets out a load of questions about this new fantasy world without giving any direct answers. It draws you in with its imagery and descriptions leaving the reader wanting to know where the journey will go at the end of the book.
This continues for the next three books in that a journey begins and stuff happens to the people, some enemies become friends, some friends become enemies; all in all the plot drives on. However, at the end of book 4, Wizard and Glass, the linear progression stops and an attempt at summing up what is actually going on begins.

Wizard and Glass acts as a prequel to The Gunslinger in that our protagonist, Roland, recants the tale that set him on the course for the Dark Tower. At the end of this tale and the beginning of book 5, Wolves of the Calla, things start to become a little obscure.
Everything was going really well until, out of the blue, comes a load of Snitches, ‘Harry Potter edition,’ and then I started thinking, ‘have I picked up the wrong book?’ I thought at the time, that it supported my theory regarding the Gunslinger’s fantasy world so I let it slide. However, looking back I’ve changed my mind. This kind of thing which happens from here on out to the end of the series, destroys the originality of the work. The Dark Tower is no longer Stephen King’s work. The Snitches are only used as explosive weapons. They could have been called anything else and Harry Potter isn’t referenced anywhere else so it’s a pointless popular culture reference.

Despite that, Wolves of the Calla is probably my favourite book in the series and could be an individual story with the right framing. This contrasts greatly from book 6, Song of Susannah. I’ve tried really hard not to use the following description, but ‘clusterfuck’ is the only way to describe the coming together of events that occur during the novel. It is a conjoining book, nothing more and probably could have been done away with completely my making books 5 and 7 slightly longer.
The final book, as with most endings in books, completely fucked me off, but even more so as I’d had to read six other books to get this far. King makes constant references to his other works during this part and even includes himself as a character. I understand the concept of breaking the fourth wall, but in something has been truly magnificent up to this point, it feels like King was afraid of ruining his own work by taking it seriously and instead has opted to make a huge joke out of it.

However this was not my main gripe. It was superceeded by the thing I hate most about novels as mentioned in the review of Nation. This one is a lot worse than countering things that people may question. Instead King feels the need to justify himself and he doesn’t go about it a self-effacing fashion. The afterword reads like, ‘I am the author, what I say goes. It you don’t like it, fuck you.’
There are several points throughout the series where King actively interferes with his characters by giving them items they require without any explanation as to why and essentially uses the Author-Director approach to storytelling. For example:
Eddie: I need a key
Stephen King (thinking): Hmm, Eddie needs a key. He’s about to look under a rock. Let’s put a key there.
Eddie: Ah-Ha! I have found a key under a rock!

When the author makes life easy for their characters it can be seen as a cop-out, especially after taking the ‘because I said so’ approach in the Afterword. But after 7 books in a series and the hundreds of others he has released, it would be stupid to accuse King of laziness.
If anything, The Dark Tower has taught me that I can write absolutely anything I want in a novel as long as I justify it as the end with, ‘I’m the author and I can do what the fuck I like.’

The Dark Tower Bibligraphy:
1. The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger (1982) by Stephen King was published by Sphere Books Limited 1988. RRP £7.99 (Paperback)
2. The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King was published Sphere Books Limited in 1990. RRP £7.99 (Paperback)
3. The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands by Stephen King was published by Sphere Books Limited in 1992. RRP £7.99 (Paperback)
4. The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass by Stephen King was published by Hodder and Stoughton in 1997. RRP £7.99 (Paperback)
5. The Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King was published by Hodder and Stoughton in 2003. RRP £6.99 (Paperback)
6. The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah by Stephen King was published by Hodder and Stoughton in 2004.RRP £6.99 (Paperback)
7. The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower by Stephen King was published by Hodder and Stoughton in 2004. RRP £6.99 (Paperback)

Joseph Conrad – Heart of Darkness

I picked this up due to the history behind the novel and curiosity as to what makes a canonical novella.

Firstly a note on the picture included to the left; I always try to get a picture of the copy of the book I own. I’ve only failed on one occasion and that was with Stephen King’s Carrie. I picked this one up as a collective of Penguin Popular Classics as I am a fan of recycling and the book is made from 100% recycled paper. However, I would advise not taking these books on holiday to hot countries as the spine melted in the intense Turkey heat and my book is now falling apart and I’m lucky to still have all 111 pages intact.

Anyway, enough with paper, let’s talk literature. From a modern perspective, Heart of Darkness wouldn’t have got through a first reading with a publisher and the bog standard rejection letter would have been sent, such is the poor quality of writing.

As for the frame story genre, I’ve never been a massive fan and Heart of Darkness isn’t going to sway me. I’m a simple person and I found it hard to follow and it didn’t hold my attention. I had to really concentrate to work out what was going on and I don’t find it an enjoyable experience when I have to work hard to understand a book.

The book is broken down into three sections and at first I thought they were really pointless. There are no definable breaks in the story and if anything they interrupt flow. However, I went away, did a little research and discovered that Heart of Darkness was originally published in three parts in Blackwood’s Magazine in 1902. Even though it’s been reprinted, it’s been kept as close to its original format as possible, which is a nice nostalgic touch.

So is the book any good? Chinua Achebe, author of Things Fall Apart, does not think so and says that the book is overly racist and that Conrad himself was racist. He launched this criticism in 1975 a full 51 years after Conrad’s death in 1924, and while his argument had credibility at the time, it is invalid as at the time of writing Heart of Darkness, racism was common and in line with the culture and thinking of the general population. The book and its connotations are acceptable within its own context.

That is reason why it is simply not possible to review Heart of Darkness from a modern literary standpoint; it doesn’t make sense to do so. It is easy to launch a scathing attack on a dead person; they can’t argue back. In fact, the counter argument was that Achebe was making a political statement. If that is the case, he shouldn’t use a 75 year old text to do so. Regardless of what Achebe says, Heart of Darkness is in the canon and his comments only serve to strengthen the fact that it is exactly where it belongs.

Heart of Darkness was published by Penguin Popular Classics in 1994. RRP £2.00 (Paperback) Originally published in Blackwood’s Magazine in 1902.

Mark Watson - Eleven

Rarely do I buy books because they are listed as the number one book in the Tesco book chart thing, but as I know who Mark Watson is, and I had no idea he also wrote novels as well as starring in the occasional Magners advert and telling jokes, I thought I’d take a chance.

Eleven is a book based on the idea of six degrees of separation. In the case, as the title might suggest, it is eleven degrees of separation instead. Very clever Mark.

There aren’t many negative points to make about the book. The characters are really well constructed and fit in well with their surroundings. There always seems to be a reason for every scene and the individual set pieces link together well.

There were a few stand out moments and the first is Mark Watson’s lack of fear when dealing with extreme subjects. The main character, Xavier makes the mistake of dropping his best friend’s baby, ironically one which the couple struggled to conceive. It’s a moment of complete seriousness doused in humour that literally causes the jaw to remain firmly open for about ten pages.

I also get the feeling that Mark is one of these people (let’s call them perfectionists) that picked up on every single misspelling or out of place punctuation because the entirety of Eleven’s 388 pages are extremely polished. It makes a book much more enjoyable to be able to read it from A to B without being removed from the story by some adolescent sentence structure. While some of my other reviews highlight some of the smallest mistakes, and may seem petty, it’s for good reason. If Mark can write a story of over 350 pages without making a mistake, why can’t every other published author?

Going back to Watson’s ability to develop characters, he has written a character I find most intriguing; Xavier’s love interest Pippa. She is a strange mixture of driven, passionate and crazy and while being a bit of fruit loop you can understand exactly why Xavier falls for her. And you also want to bash him over the head for being such an idiot towards her at times.

Eleven’s characters are what you make of them. Whereas some authors go mental explaining everything about their characters in order that you completely understand where they are coming from and the process and hardwork they put into developing such complex and intriguing psyches, Mark Watson simply states, ‘she is a cleaner,’ and lets the dialogue and context do the rest.

It is also the first ending of a contained story that has been satisfying, which is annoying because if it had been shit I could have doubled the length of the review ranting about how no good can ever come from reading an entire book.

I would recommend Eleven. That’s all there is to say really.

Eleven by Mark Watson was published by Simon and Schuster UK Limited. RRP £7.99 (Paperback)