Monday, December 04, 2006

Attila is driving me bonkers

Sorry, this isn't a review, but I have a few comments about Attila by William Napier (sorry, again). I am on the fourth chapter and it's driving me bananas. I'm not sure I can actually keep reading. Since it's set in the 5th century, I feel I should, but ...

Where to start? I think the main problem for me is that it's in the omniscient view. So, the reader gets to meet rather a lot of people, on a (currently) a very superficial level indeed. People behave like pawns in the story, rather than as their own character. Galla Placidia is a cardboard cut-out baddie, for example. And as for the old soldiers happening to be near Attila, and remembering the time when the Germanic hoardes came across the frozen river ... Oi, Napier, give it a rest!

And then there's the showing-off of historical knowledge - gert-long list of what's at a Roman banquet, for example. Methinks that Napier is a Classics graduate. If not, he's doing a good impression. At least he's having fun sending up Claudian, even if this reader is gritting her teeth and wishing he'd get on with the story.

Also, these Romans feel to me like they are virtually no different from the 1st & 2nd century Romans. Yes, there's mention of Christianity being the official religion, but if they were all dumped into early imperial Rome, I wouldn't really tell the difference. In that way, it feels like a Hollywood Rome, all decadence and lark's tongues. Flicking through the book, it looks like we might get to see the business end of the Late Roman Empire, hopefully in all its barbarous glory.

Oh, and then there's the heavy-handed relating that history to our own period, complete with the mention of economic-migrants. Some of us cottoned on a long time back about that one, thank you. It doesn't have to be done so obviously. Lay the clues, trust the reader to get there. Where this period is concerned, it's bordering on a no-brainer anyway.

In general: he doesn't evince in me a suspension of disbelief. I can see the machine working all too well. There's no accounting for my taste, I guess, as some people like his books.

But, anyway, I can console myself that Mary Gentle's new book, Ilario: the lion's eye is finally out, after some delays. A good friend pointed me to the review in The Times. Though Gentle can be uneven, the (long) flashes of sheer brilliance more than make up for it. It's back to her alternative Carthage again, where part of Ash: a secret history was set.

btw, I don't seem to have any editing buttons at present, otherwise I would add a few links and a pic. Hope blogger haven't updated the software, or something, as Firefox may not be handling it. Added 12.30: the buttons are back. Perhaps my computer was having a funny turn.

And other note: I am currently thinking about what to say about Flight of the Sparrow by Fay Sampson, but it won't be a review. It'll be more like the Attila comments above, though I'm likely to be rather more complimentary (ahem)

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8 Comments:

At 2:06 pm GMT, Blogger Carla said...

I should think it'll be the exact reverse of your Attila comments, no? I happen to like omniscient viewpoint and meeting lots of characters, so for me that might be a strength rather than a weakness. I'll probably give Attila a try some time and see if it annoys me as much as it did you.

By the way, was late Rome notably more or less decadent than early Imperial Rome (pace extreme examples like Caligula), or don't we know? Hollywood in the 60s seemed to equate early Imperial Rome = non-Christian = decadent and draw all sorts of heavy-handed moral Messages from that.

 
At 3:15 pm GMT, Blogger Alex Bordessa said...

I daresay it was a draw on the decadence stakes, but Napier didn't give any impression of it being very different - a minimum of 200 years have passed. For example, I thought Rome by then was pretty much a backwater for the Imperial family, at least. Some emperors hardly saw Rome at all.

Omniscient can equate with superficial. Cast of thousands - none of whom I care about; they are a blur, none come into focus, they play their small part, then bog off. What is the point of meeting these characters if they are so insubstantial? Those two old soldiers are a pretty typical 'setting the scene' example. Oops, the author's slip is showing, in fact he's showing his knickers.

I am rarely interested in the 'big story' when it comes to fiction. I'll doubtless say more about this aspect when I do my comments on Flight.

You probably won't believe me if I said I approached Attila with an open mind. I did, but a similar 'Julia' nightmare scenario re-surfaced pretty quick. I just don't like his style of writing. Weird, but I've tried to explain it.

 
At 4:04 pm GMT, Blogger Carla said...

No, I believe you. There's nothing wrong with saying that his style of writing or his way of telling the story doesn't work for you. This is the sort of thing I mean when I say I don't believe in 'rules' for writing, because what works for you doesn't necessarily work for me and vice versa, yet we're both intelligent readers with an interest in the subject. I don't think there's a 'right' way to do these things (once you get beyond the nuts and bolts of using grammar clearly). The main thing is that you explained why, which means I can form some sort of judgement about whether I might like or dislike the book. Which makes it a useful and helpful review :-)

 
At 5:25 pm GMT, Blogger Alex Bordessa said...

Let's not get onto rules again :-) If I hawked a book like this round the agents they wouldn't accept it - very probably for some of the things I've mentioned in my comments ... Rule One might be: get lucky, very lucky.

 
At 11:32 pm GMT, Blogger Gabriele C. said...

Lol, Carla, you should read and review it, too. I don't like the aspect of more clich├ęd Roman orgies (I had my share in Quo Vadis, thank you very much) but I won't mind to see the Christians play a smaller role than they did in history (they tend to do that in my two Late Empire books, too). I like omniscient but if there are no characters to identify with, it might prove a book that I put aside at some point and forget to take up again.

You see, I need a second opinion. :)

 
At 1:15 pm GMT, Blogger Carla said...

It's on my list, Gabriele, but it won't be until after Christmas at least - so don't hold your breath :-)

 
At 8:31 am GMT, Blogger Alex Bordessa said...

Don't worry Gabriele, you'll also be getting a 2nd opinion of Flight of the Sparrow soon ;-)

 
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