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September 2017

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Ta-Nehisi Coates -- Black Panther #1

I thought this was really well-written: morally intricate and self-critical about its own backstory, without collapsing into postmodern cliche. I enjoyed it. I hadn't really followed the character previously, so I can't compare him to previous incarnations.

Barbara Comyns -- Sisters by a River, The Vet's Daughter

I'd like to read more Comyns. She turns over a deep weirdness you want to dig further into, but she's also a little forbidding -- to keep with the gardening metaphor, there's something stony about her writing. I don't see loving her books, but I definitely appreciate them.

Sisters by a River does a clever thing with the voice which I won't spoil here, except to say that it's quiet and tragic. I don't think I've seen an author do something so specifically narratively interesting with the character's diction. River is Comyns' first novel, and the structure has problems -- the story just sort of wanders off until it's out of sight -- but you can see an original mind at work. I'd quite like to read Our Spoons Came from Woolworth's next.

Jane Gardham -- The Hollow Land, Bilgewater, Old Filth, The Man in the Wooden Hat

(A Long Way from Verona was technically April.) Gardham is very good on Being at School in various incarnations. Old Filth might be the best of these books in being about old age rather than youth, and thereby being both wryer and more sobering, but I found that novel less warm than the other books. Filth is the only masculine protagonist -- I don't know whether that's a factor or not, as my sample size is too small.

The Man in the Wooden Hat is the same story as Old Filth, told from the wife's perspective. The warmth was there, but not quite the same depth, and for whatever reason the device of repeating the same scenes (I think verbatim) from Old Filth didn't work for me. They did not feel newly illuminated: just repeated.

Gardham was a pleasure to discover -- not quite the revelation I had with Penelope Fitzgerald or Elizabeth Taylor, but good company.

Gardham has some distinctive structural habits -- the story proper is often contained in a brief framing device. Old Filth, for example, is bracketed with brief faux playscripts of characters discussing the dozing Filth within his earshot.

Oh, I liked what Gardham did with time in The Hollow Land -- it was unexpected, and, though the details are not quite right, plausible.

(I'm not being mysterious to be annoying -- I'm just too tired to write a proper spoilery review.)

G. Willow Wilson -- Ms. Marvel #1 & 2

As comics, these were less my thing than Black Panther, being goofier in tone and especially in visual style, but I liked the stuff about millennials responding to being unvalued.

Other bits

The Prose Edda had to go back -- who, I would like to know, had an urgent need to consult Snorri Sturluson? I wish they told you where your books were going when they got recalled.

Better news: Lincoln in the Bardo came in. I've heard some people say the novel's structure is brilliant and experimental, and some that it's "like a party trick" (Lissa Evans) -- a form put on for show, without being integral to the story.

It's early to say, but I think I may come out somewhere in the middle on the question. Which is to say -- so far I like it.

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