for Book Discussion Group (BDG) from November 2000 to February 2001
The nomination period is CLOSED.
I would like to nominate Angela Carter¹s _Nights at the Circus_ which I discovered and was very delighted by last summer. I would describe it as sumptous, satirical, baroque and bawdy. On a very basic level it is about the adventures of a mysterious trapeeze artist who grew up in a brothel; but under the surface lies an interesting commentary on self, sexuality and the nature of storytelling itself. I would love to re-read it and discuss it with the group.
Here are some other reviews:
1. This was located @ http://mot.cprost.sfu.ca/~visible/susan/acarter.html
I have to confess that I have written my share of verbose papers on Angela Carter-- perhaps I have written even more than my share of them! But, I decided to refrain from sharing those little works with you--boring you to tears with my little theories about what a great writer she was. Instead, I should like to pack these pages with anecdotes, fun facts and general tributary prose...
Angela Carter managed to create a remarkable combination of the serious and the Carnivalesque in her work. Her later writing in particular is bawdy and humorous for all its complex allusions and structural myths.
My two favorites are Wise Chidren and Nights at the Circus, the latter of which could be said to tie into the whole notion of Scheherazade telling a skeptical Sultan fascinating stories in the course of a long night.
2. This is the description of Carter¹s work which appears in the FSF alphabetized bibliographies:
Carter wrote many novels and short stories before her death in 1992. Her short stories often contained a re-telling of fables, myths and fairy tales from a gender-oriented perspective. Sometimes criticized by people who thought she offered negative depictions of women, she nevertheless created new and thought-provoking versions of many traditional stories. Me, I like her work a lot; especially her short fiction. For instance, "Wolf-Alice" in The Bloody Chamber, or her retelling of the Lizzie Borden story which I think was in Saints and Sinners. Carter could take those old fairy tales and retell them, twisting the Disney-fied versions back to their original gruesomeness and simultaneously revealing the horror and humor of the world. Like a British Flannery O'Connor on a twisted concoction of speed and acid. --lq, 5/26/95; rev. 9/7/97.
I've read it and loved it--but also found it a bit disconcerting. Would love to talk to you all about it.
Amazon.com describes the book this way:
Conqueror's Child is the fourth book in Suzy McKee Charnas's futuristic series. Like a smith at the forge, Charnas hammers out a neorustic dystopia where males brutally dominate females through rape-torture, forced labor, snd sadism. Previously in the series, the fem-slave Alldera escapes the men-cities into the grassland wilderness where she is adopted by the Riding Women. These genetically-altered nomads are devoid of males, reproducing without them and producing only female children. They are also deadly with the bow and lance. With their help, Alldera invades the men-cities and frees the fems. Conqueror's Child begins here, with Sorrel, Alldera's daughter. Rape-conceived during Alldera's slave-days but born and raised free among the Riding Women, Sorrel yearns for a relationship with her hero-mother. For years Alldera kept Sorrel safe, far way, while she built a new society in the former men-cities. Though safe, Sorrel feels herself a misfit--a conqueror's daughter ignorant of battle. She bonds with a fellow misfit, an orphaned child of another escaped slave--a male child. Because he is shunned by the unisex horsewomen, Sorrel adopts him, resolving to find him a better life. With the child, Sorrel rides out for the cities where fems now rule and men still live. But there's danger in reunions. Sorrel will not only meet her mother but also two of her rapists. Either could be Sorrel's father, and either could betray her. The
appeal of Conqueror's Child spans genres. Readers of both science fiction and women's studies will find it a powerful read in which institutionalized violence is examined through its very personal effects. However, though Charnas's skill lies in crafting the epic, characterization sometimes falls short, especially with minor personas who seem somewhat interchangeable. Regardless, Charnas's works belong among the SF luminaries for her even-handed examination of relationships and sexuality--themes negligently ignored for much of SF's history
I would like to nominate Charles de Lint's urban fantasy version of *Jack the Giant Killer*. The originally published book is out of print, but *Jack the Giant Killer* is available as part one of *Jack of Kinrowan*. (My copy of *Jack of Kinrowan*, also from Tor, is a 4" x 6.75" copy of 474 pages that I picked up for $5.99 a few years back: ISBN 0812538986; Amazon.com lists it as being out of stock at the publisher so I don't know how widely available the smaller-sized version is.)
Recently, some acquaintances have told me that, although they enjoy Charles de Lint's short stories, they don't like his novels as well. I'd be interested to know what some members of this group think. I'd also like to share people's thoughts on de Lint's version of the "Jack" of numerous fairy tales.
FWIW, here are copies of the reviews from Amazon:
This one is the best!, November 17, 1999 - Reviewer: A reader from Houston, Texas
This was the first Charles de Lint book that I read (several years ago) and it is still my favorite. I just finished re-reading it for the umpteenth time, and it never gets old! He is one of the most imaginative writers I've read. (I mean, a fiaina sidhe halfling who plays saxophone in a rock band!) His characters are so vivid and real, that you feel like you've stepped into Faerie yourself! This one's a must!
Amazing Meld of Urban Fantasy and Traditional Folklore, October 15, 1999 -
Reviewer: Julia (email@example.com) from Boston, MA
This book is so amazingly good it kills me. I've re-read it many, many times and I still love it to bits. I studied folklore in college, which means I've been known to get insanely crabby when fantasy authors screw up in describing the known folklore of various cultures. DeLint blends important information such as how to hide from unseelie creatures with the excitement of living in the city. All must read this book.
You can't put this one down, January 5, 1999 - Reviewer: A reader from Boston, Massachusetts
This is a whole new level for urban fantasy. Fast-paced and hair-raising, "Jack" has twists and turns that will keep you reading long past your bedtime. Jackie is one of the livliest characters I've ever read, and she drags the rest of her world into all of her adventures. Many of the characters in this book are drawn from traditional folklore, but De Lint gives them fresh, human (or not) faces. He has the power to make you believe in his world; you won't want to leave it.
I loved this book, October 27, 1998 - Reviewer: A reader from San Francisco, California
This book made me fall in love with Charles de Lint. Somehow, it makes the fantasy seem more effective to be set against the real urban setting of Ottawa, rather than the generic "somewhere" city of Newford that de Lint likes to use in his later work. The chararcters of Jackie Rowan and Kate Crackernuts are easy to empathize with. The story is fast paced and exiting. And, the fantasy is delightful!
As a transgender activist, I am always on the lookout for books that push the limits of our gender boundaries, and this is an interesting one. I heard some discussion of Commitment Hour at WisCon last year, and seems to rouse strong opinions. I also recommended it to a friend of mine, for her Gender Studies classes to read, and she said that the students have enjoyed it, and that it has started some good discussions in the class. Reviews have been mixed, and I agree that the book has its flaws, but it's a fun, engrossing read, and there's certainly plenty to talk about in it.
The book cover says:
With most of Earth's population long since departed for other planets, Tober Cove is a wonderful place to be--especially for Fullin, a musician. But Fullin is 20, and at that age, each person must make the most important decision in life. As he finds his idyllic existence threatened by dark secrets that will upend his beliefs, the time has come for Fullin to take an irrevocable stand and seal his fate forever.
Most of the reviews I've found give away way too much info, but here's one that's pretty good:
Set in the same universe as Gardners's Expendable, Commitment Hour takes place in a small village on post-emigration Earth, where the inhabitants have one unique feature- they change sex each year until age twenty, when they must choose male, female or hermaphrodite. CH traces this most important day in two people's lives, and it turns out to be a bit more wild than they expected.
There are enough surprises in the book that telling much more of the plot would involve spoilers. Overall, it's a pretty good effort- the world is nicely worked, and the two main characters seem fairly well realized. The book falls down a bit on the rest of the characters- the Spark Lord especially seems to be amazingly clueless/stupid for a scientist, and many of the others seem to be cardboard cutouts used only to move the plot along.
One point I did appreciate- those who choose hermaphrodite are tremendously oppressed, usually driven from the village or killed. It would have been very easy to make the hermaphroditic characters saints, just to drive home the "Discrimination is bad" angle. Many other writers would have done this but Gardner wisely avoids this trap.
I understand that the book is sold complete in the UK but in sections in the US. I would propose that, since 1113 pages might be a bit on the long side, the discussion should be limited to what forms the first book in the US. I’m not sure if it will be obvious to anyone buying the book in the UK where the division is, but I’m sure someone over there can tell us in the UK so we will know to put out spoiler warnings if we stray to later chapters in our comments.
I am nominating this book for several reasons, some of which relate to recent threads in the list.
The thread on Mary Gentle has finally pushed me into the decision to read the book (I’ve been putting it off for a while). From past experience with her work I know I will be shocked, confused and enlightened, and possibly all three simultaneously, before I’m a third of the way through. It is exactly the sort of situation where I would benefit from having a group to share my impressions and reactions.
The thread concerning the lack of discussion has set me thinking. I suspect the reason is partly that the selected books are too uncontroversial for a feminist discussion group. Many of the books selected would probably raise a long and heated debate on a white male supremacist list, but a book with the central thrust that ‘women aren’t
always treated well by society and should have equal rights’ isn’t going to produce anything more than a shrug of agreement on this list. Most of the debate I have seen here could be summarised as ‘I agree with the ideas
in the book but I felt the author was too simplistic in presenting the argument’.
From what I can see in the reviews of Ash there is something in there to offend everyone. I said above that in reading the book I expect to be enlightened. I would like to offer my first thoughts on the book before I even get as far as ordering it. It has already been said that the description of Casaubon is an antidote to the over-glamorising of the human body which is far more degrading to people who don’t fit the prescribed shape. From reading the reviews of Ash it has really struck me how much war is over-glamorising in all forms of fiction. Even books which are anti-war tend to strike the pose of suffering protagonists shedding tortured tears over clean dead bodies. Ash appears to be deliberately offensive. War should be offensive. I am hoping to be offended, and to be offended in ways I am not expecting.
One of my all time surprise favorite books is his first novel, _Wicked_ which is the tale of the Wicked Witch of the West of Oz fame. Unbelievably fantastic! And I'd nominate it, but we're limited to one now, and I've already read that one!
So, here's a review from The GreenMan review:
When Iris Fisher's English father is suddenly murdered by his neighbors, Iris's Dutch mother Margarethe gathers up her daughters (Iris has an elder sister, Ruth) and flees back to her homeland. She hopes to take sanctuary with her father, but arrives to find that her father has died some time ago. Penniless, the trio is taken in by the Master, a painter, who agrees to house and feed them if Iris will sit for a portrait.
One of the first people that Iris notices in her new home is a child of her own age, the ethereally lovely Clara van den Meer, whom the citizens of Haarlem call a changeling. Iris has no idea that her life is going to be inextricably bound up with this beautiful child.
Eventually, Margarethe's manipulations land her and her daughters in the van den Meer household. Iris is to be an English tutor and companion to Clara while Margarethe becomes cook and cleaner. While Iris is enjoying having a new friend and exploring her new world, Margarethe's manipulations continue, until after Dame van den Meer's death in childbirth, she becomes the new Dame van den Meer. And still her manipulations continue.
Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister is, of course, a variation on the age-old tale of Cinderella, the fair young maid whose evil stepmother and stepsisters keep her in the kitchen and keep her covered in dirt and ashes so that her beauty is hidden. But here, the stepsisters are not evil. Nor is Iris truly ugly. She is plain to look upon, certainly, but she has a kind and loving heart and sticks up for Clara against her mother. Ruth, the elder sister, is also not evil; she cannot be, for she has no more wit than a five year old and must be taken care of by Iris. This version is much closer to the recently released screen version of the tale, Ever After, starring Drew Barrymore as Cinderella (if you'll recall, one of the stepsisters was considered ugly by her mother and was much more sympathetic to Cinderella's plight) than the Disney version where the sisters were both ugly and spiteful.
Maguire has set the story against the backdrop of seventeenth- century Holland; Rembrandt is mentioned as being a young fellow using surprising techniques. Much of the detail is told in painterly metaphor, light and color, especially when Iris herself becomes interested in painting.
The story does have all of the time-honored motifs of the tale, including Cinderella visiting the ball and being unrecognized, the lost slipper, the visit of the Prince to the household, but it is how they are mixed up and changed that makes the story fresh and new, and although we know that Cinderella will end up with the Prince, what happens after that is something of a surprise.
I have not read Maguire's first novel, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, but having read
Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, I have moved it to the top of my reading list. I am also anxiously awaiting his next novel.
One from Amazon (there's bunches of reviews at Amazon)
Gregory Maguire's chilling, wonderful retelling of Cinderella is a study in contrasts. Love and hate, beauty and ugliness, cruelty and charity--each idea is stripped of its ethical trappings, smashed up against its opposite number, and laid bare for our examination. Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister begins in 17th-century Holland, where the two Fisher sisters and their mother have fled to escape a hostile England. Maguire's characters are at once more human and more fanciful than their fairy-tale originals. Plain but smart Iris and her sister, Ruth, a hulking simpleton, are dazed and terrified as their mother, Margarethe, urges them into the strange Dutch streets. Within days, purposeful Margarethe has secured the family a place in the home of an aspiring painter, where for a short time, they find happiness.
But this is Cinderella, after all, and tragedy is inevitable. When a wealthy tulip speculator commissions the painter to capture his blindingly lovely daughter, Clara, on canvas, Margarethe jumps at the chance to better their lot. "Give me room to cast my eel spear, and let follow what may," she crows, and the Fisher family abandons the artist for the upper-crust Van den Meers.
When Van den Meer's wife dies during childbirth, the stage is set for Margarethe to take over the household and for Clara to adopt the role of "Cinderling" in order to survive. What follows is a changeling adventure, and of course a ball, a handsome prince, a lost slipper, and what might even be a fairy godmother. In a single magic night, the exquisite and the ugly swirl around in a heated mix:
Everything about this moment hovers, trembles, all their sweet, unreasonable hopes on view before anything has had the chance to go wrong. A stepsister spins on black and white tiles, in glass slippers and a gold gown, and two stepsisters watch with unrelieved admiration. The light pours in, strengthening in its golden hue as the sun sinks and the evening approaches. Clara is as otherworldly as the Donkeywoman, the Girl-Boy. Extreme beauty is an affliction...
But beyond these familiar elements, Maguire's second novel becomes something else altogether--a morality play, a psychological study, a feminist manifesto, or perhaps a plain explanation of what it is to be human. Villains turn out to be heroes, and heroes disappoint. The story's narrator wryly observes, "In the lives of children, pumpkins can turn into coaches, mice and rats into human beings. When we grow up, we learn that it's far more common for human beings to turn into rats." --Therese Littleton
Information from Barnes and Noble:
An astonishingly rich re-creation of the land of Oz, this book retells the story of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, who wasn't so wicked after all. Taking readers past the yellow brick road and into a phantasmagoric world rich with imagination and allegory, Wicked just might change the reputation of one of the most sinister characters in literature.
A fable for adults on the subject of destiny and free will by a writer of children's books. It tells the story of Elphaba before she became the Wicked Witch of the West in the land of Oz. The novel traces her career as nun, nurse, pro-democracy activist and animal rights defender. Synopsis copyright Fiction Digest
From the Publisher
When Dorothy triumphed over the Wicked Witch of the West in L. Frank Baum's classic tale, we heard only her side of the story. But what about her arch-nemesis, the mysterious witch? Where did she come from? How did she become so wicked? And what is the true nature of evil?
Gregory Maguire creates a fantasy world so rich and vivid that we will never look at Oz the same way again. Wicked is about a land where animals talk and strive to be treated like first-class citizens, Munchkinlanders
seek the comfort of middle-class stability and the Tin Man becomes a victim of domestic violence. And then there is the little green-skinned girl named Elphaba, who will grow up to be the infamous Wicked Witch of the West, a smart, prickly and misunderstood creature who challenges all our preconceived notions about the nature of good and evil.
What People Are Saying
Starting with the Wizard of Oz material, Gregory Maguire has added greater depth and different facets, creating something altogether different and unique. A magnificent work, a genuine tour de force. — (Lloyd Alexander,
author of The Chronicles of Prydain) —Lloyd Alexander
This book is a glorious frolic, a feast of language, a study of good and evil, and a massive history of the fabulous land of Oz. — (Jane Langton, author of The Diamond in the Window) —Jane Langton
I'm halfway through this book now and would love to start off the discussion. I'm always amazed and pleased to find a quality feminist book written by a man. This one has everything: feminism, animal rights, the nature of good and evil, Christianity Vs paganism, racism, classism, religion as a tool of the despot. I'm looking forward to a chance to discuss it.
I recommend the book The Fifth Sacred Thing because it is a feminist utopia book by the author of The Spiral
Dance. I bought the book years ago and have yet to read it - so, I guess I'm nominating it for an excuse to read it... but, I bought it because feminist utopia/dystopia literature has fascinated me ever since reading Memoirs of a Survivor and The Handmaid's Tale. Here's the information from Amazon... Heather
An epic tale of freedom and slavery, love and war, and the potential futures of humankind tells of a twenty-first century California clan caught between two clashing worlds, one based on tolerance, the other on repression. Reprint. Synopsis Here is an unforgettable epic that brilliantly dramatizes the choices we must make in order to insure the survial of our selves, our society, and our planet. This powerful novel of ideas and the future of human life itself is written by the bestselling author of The Spiral Dance.
Engaging story of eco-utopia against fascist state, November 4, 1997
Reviewer: firstname.lastname@example.org from Boston
I, too had this book on my shelf for several years before I actually read it. Although it obviously sounded good enough at the time I bought it, I feared that it would be preachy and overbearing. It was nothing of the sort. The characters are complex; flawed at times, saintly at others. The story is compelling, combining plots about the personal growth of the various characters, adventure stories as Bird escapes from prison and Madrone ventures into the southern wilds to help the freedom fighters, and the ultimate show down between the San Franciscans and the Stewards. It is a bit simplistic, perhaps, but that didn't stop me from wishing things in reality were more like they are in Maya and Madrone's world. The attempts to portray this world as one free of any racial or sexual bigotry do get a bit heavy handed at times, but never so much that it interfered with my enjoyment of the story. I would recommend this book to anyone, and in fact immediately after I finished ran out and bought a copy to give as a gift this Christmas.
This could change your life..., March 17, 1997
I've had this book on my shelf for three years, and finally decided to read it during my spring break. Wow. It's been too long since I loved a book so much that I found myself stopping between chapters to clasp it to my chest with a serene smile on my face. And, alternately, to have to put the book down because it was too intense, too painful to exist in the world she created. This has started me on a personal vision quest -- to find out more about living my life like Maya, Madrone, Bird and the rest. Thank you, Starhawk, I look forward to prequels and sequels...
This book contains Sister Light, Sister Dark (1988) and the sequel The White Jenna (1989).
I've got interested in this book because Jessica Salmonson mentions it in an essay on amazons as a positive example in which the Amazon/swordswoman is _not_ presented as an anomaly in her society. There are apparently no online reviews out there, but Amazon readers gave it a 5 star rating (8 votes). A selection of their comments:
Reviewer: Buichiro@aol.com from Swannanoa, NC
Jane Yolen has created a world and a story reminiscent of some old celtic myth. In fact you may wonder as you read whether or not there exists somewhere a legend much like this one sometime in our own world's past. The story centers around a central character named White Jenna who is raised by a community of women warriors similar to the Amazons. White Jenna is prophecied of and will reunite the (Sisters) with the world. She will bring change that some Sisters embrace and some resist to the bitter end. White Jenna is rescued as a baby in the forest and raised by a Light and Dark Sister. If you want to know what a light and dark sister are you'll have to read the book. Jane Yolen explains that concept much better than I can. The first part of the book is about the early life of White Jenna and her friends growing up in the community of sisters. The book really takes off after all this when Jenna and her friends have to go out on their missions. This is similar to young american indians going out into the wild and proving their manhood, having visions, and getting their spirit names. Alot of the happenings in this book parallel legends and myths from many sources. Once Jenna sets out on her mission things start to happen and the pace of the story really takes off and seldom slows until the end. Oh but don't worry about the ending. The ending is very satisfying and unlike many books, appropriate. This book has romance, fight scenes, adventure, war, fantasy, myth, quests, and all the elements one looks for in a really great fantasy. I was enchanted and spellbound as I sacrificed sleep to find out what happens next. Jane Yolen writes mostly children's books and you get a sense of that by the way this book reads but don't let that fool you into thinking it was written for children only. This book is definitely for kids of all ages. Enjoy!
Elizabeth Kerner (email@example.com) from Edinburgh, Scotland
Part of Yolen's genius lies in her skillful weaving of reality and fantasy, the melding of myth and pseudo-history (with some quiet digs at modern historians along the way - but that's just an added extra) to form a convincing whole. The book is full of strong, memorable characters, most especially her central heroine, Jenna. Jenna is human enough both to want to be the Anna, the chosen one, and at the same time to want to reject that destiny. Fantasy and reality, blended and woven, but not like a piece of cloth, flat and two-dimensional - Jane's work is more like a fine basket, with height, width and depth, filled with brilliant writing and replete with original ideas that for all their newness still resonate at a deep level. Her concept of the dark sisters has introduced a new archetype to modern myth, and it is so powerful and rings so true that from this time forth we will wonder how we did not know it before.
In an interview in 1988 Yolen herself said about the book:
Raymond Thompson: When you're writing within the Arthurian tradition, of course, you know that certain things are going to happen.
Jane Yolen: Maybe.
RT: Arthur is going to die?
RT: Might you try to write a story in which he doesn't?
JY: Well, let me put it this way: in the second book of two linked novels, Sister Light, Sister Dark and White Jenna, I wrestle with that sort of thing. They are not Arthurian, but they speak to this particular point. The books look like Amazonian sword and sorcery, but they are really about the nexxus point of legend, history, balladry, myth. What I do is start with "The Story," then suddenly move to "The Legend," which has something to do with what we've been listening to, but does not fit exactly. There are some odd points, as if someone four hundred years later had made up a tale about what had been passed along for those four hundred years. And then I have a section called "The Ballad," which again is like both the legend and the story, and yet it doesn't quite fit exactly either. And then I have a section called "The History," in which a historian two thousand years later tries to recreate the Amazonian society from various fragments of information: a dig, or a book, or a poem that's been left, or pieces of a poem. Of course, he is one hundred and eighty degrees wrong. In the two books women--when they reach puberty--learn how to call up their shadow side, so that the shadow, the dark sister, can live side by side with them when the moon is shining, or when there's a strong light source. And at the end of the second book our hero knows that she can take one person back into the goddess grove, where she will live young forever until she's needed in the world again. And she has to make the choice whether to take her dark sister or her husband, the king. She reaches a decision, and the last line is something like, "She opened her arms." Now, you don't know which she's done: whether she's taken her husband into the grove to live forever with him until need is greatest again, or whether she's gone off with the dark sister. According to legend two stories are told. One is the story the men tell: and the men say that years later, when they discovered the cave that led into the grove, they found the long bones of a man tied to a sled; and they say that still, on moonlit nights, you can see two women, running naked through the woods, come and leap over the long bones and go off. The women tell the story that Jenna and her king are waiting in the grove until they are needed again. So it's the story of Arthur, and it's telling it both ways. I'm saying, yes, he died; no, he didn't. So in a sense that story I wrote would have been written very differently if I hadn't known Arthurian legend. Because the ending is purely Avalon and the Sleepers.