Thursday, March 20, 2008

Books on tour

I've been on holiday hence the hiatus in posting and while I was away I read The Business of Dying by Simon Kernick. It's a good holiday book in that it is easy enough to read but, to be honest, it's not a great book, not even a good book. Why? Well, the central character was adequately drawn but the prose was pretty lumpen. There were no flights of language that painted a scene effectively, the action scenes were stodgy and the plot was telegraphed so clumsily that even I, who is only an occasional reader of crime fiction, could spot whodunnit.

But what also struck me was that, despite it being shelved under crime, it was a fantasy and it deserved that epithet almost as much as Tolkien does. By that I mean it depicted a world wholly unrecognisable from our own which turned out to be quite comforting in the way it worked. The reactionary revelation at the close of the book suggested that the crimes its central character is investigating, rape and murder of several young women, are caused by conspiracies among the great and the good who rule over us.

That's comforting because it absolves us of any duty of care and the alternative, that these young women are vulnerable because people do not act, is almost too terrifying to contemplate. We have let them down and continue to do so. It is much easier to think that nothing can be done about the neglect society as a whole visits on vulnerable people and it confirms many people in their powerlessness. That's another reason it is a bad book.

I'm not saying that men, or indeed women, in high places do no wrong. I'm sure many have, do and continue to do so. But it is as John Crowley said via Pierce Moffett in Aegypt (and one of my favourite books) - secret societies have not influenced civilisation but the idea that secret societies have influenced society has influenced society. There is no conspiracy, just us. And the sooner we contemplate that and do something about it the better.

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