It’s never ideal to have someone looking over your shoulder when you start any new enterprise, but you want to know an audience is waiting beyond the curtain when you’re ready. So, if you’re the audience, I’ll begin with an introduction.
I am Patrick Feutz, Michigander. It’s not as bad as everyone says. Michigan is not Detroit. With this blog, I plan to navigate my way through WordPress at the same time I offer some opinions on film, literature, and occasionally goaltending. So really, my primary message to you: You don’t need to read this at all, and I don’t expect you to. Maybe I’ll get around to tinkering with privacy settings and you’ll never hear from me again.
In recent news, I’ve wrapped up a few new reads, including the deliberately daffy Kraken by China Mieville, and the unintentionally eerie The Shadow-Line by my buddy Joe (aka Joseph Conrad).
Mieville makes it difficult to quell my West Michigan sensibilities enough to give him a fairly objective review. Kraken, Mieville’s MacGuffin-centered fantasy romp through a gritty perma-nighttime London, is maniacally, and occasionally enjoyably, populated with characters and ideas taken from crumpled up pieces of paper that must have missed his wastebasket. Following everyman Billy Harrow’s unwitting journey to uncover the secret behind the baffling disappearance of his life’s work and obsession, a preserved giant squid, Kraken leads us into an underworld full of mystical entities and malificent cults.
Mieville takes an extremely contemporary view of the world, betraying his integrity for creating something meaningful in favor of something brash, fun, and lucrative. Obvious hints aside, like his verbatim quoting of text messages and use of slang that would have many foreigners scratching their heads, he treats the spiritual world like we do the Internet. It’s a vacant frontier waiting for our ideas to fill it, and it’s fun to see the interaction between cults who really are answering to their own gods, not their delusions. However, at the same time he wants us to have fun with this idea, he is unfairly cynical about Christianity, constantly taking potshots that detract from the giddiness and show his protagonist for what he really is, a vessel to communicate Mieville’s simmering disagreements with the world.
Kraken was written with a very limited audience in mind, and from what I can tell, one that is willing to forgive Mieville’s shortcomings. Obnoxious sermonizing snippets, shallow characters, flat ideas (gun farmers?), meaningless cliffhangers, and an overlong midsection harm what could be a more compact, surprising tale with fewer, larger twists and more of a focus on the very Kraken that the plot often forgets altogether. The first half was a pleasure, but the second was a chore.
I followed it up with Conrad’s The Shadow-Line, another marvelously oblique novella that gets to the point quicker than his other stories, but still retains the secondhand, highly contemplative narration, vital descriptions, open-ended mystery, broodiness, and sparse wordplay of his characters. I feel I’ve left Conrad sitting on the sidelines for too long, and it’s hard for me not to get mesmerized by his writing, so I often must read him twice to reach a consensus on his work. As I’m distracted by so much right now, it’s hard to let this more subtle story absorb, so I need to consider it more. I would say if you’re already a fan, it’s another good read, but if you’re new to Conrad, stick more closely to the familiar lest you judge him solely on The Shadow-Line.