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Posts Tagged ‘Literature’

I hoped to get something  published before I went under for surgery. I’m glad it did. 

A new article of mine is up at Kill Screen.

This time I compare open word games, in particular Skyrim, to Borges’ short story the Library of Babel.

 

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I’ve been putting off writing a review of Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger. The novel profoundly bothers me as a  reader and a reviewer. I love novels that are patchworks of various narratives, which is what I believed Her Fearful Symmetry to be. Sadly, it is in literary purgatory. The grey area of I didn’t hate it, but I cannot say it was great, but it wasn’t terrible, it wasn’t particularity fascinating either. Her Fearful Symmetry is highly problematic, with occasional meditative moments and tidbits of greatness.

Her Fearful Symmetry is a patchwork of stories taking place in and around Highgate cemetery in London England. The majority of the novel focuses on a set of mirror twins, Julia and Valentina, who inherit their estranged Aunt’s apartment over looking the cemetery. Before the twins can sell the apartment, they must live in it for one year and their parents may not set foot in it.  The apartment is haunted by the ghost of their deceased Aunt, Elspeth, who is an identical twin to the younger twins’ mother, Edie. If you’ve read any books about twins or ghosts you’ll quickly figure out where that narrative strand is going, yes it really is that predictable in a twisted Parent Trap way.

As for the twins, Julia is set on being with her sister at all costs, believing that Valentina cannot live without Julia , since Valentina is shy and sickly. Valentina slowly expresses her wish to live her own life away from Julia. Both are caught in the typical twin metaphor of being thought of as one soul in two bodies. This conflict of interest between the sisters could have taken quite a dark turn or developed into something interesting, but it simply does not.

SPOILER WARNING (Skip to ‘End of Spoilers’ if you care too)

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Instead, Valentina, who shows no symptoms of suicidal tendencies, starts to dwell on killing herself as a way to separate herself from her sister. Valentina believes that her death and resurrection via her spectral Aunt is the only way to be free of the burden of the societal expected shared existence of being a twin. (Somehow, Valentina did not think that  talking to her sister or that moving away was an option.)

The other problem is that few of the characters seem realistic and many of their decisions are forced, easy solutions for a ending that tries too hard to be poetic.  For example, I had a hard time buying that Elspeth’s devoted lover of 13 years, Robert, would only take one year to mourn her and then move on to dating one of her nieces. Many of the characters are completely vacant and lacking in any kind of self reflection or critical thinking. (hmm could my apparition of Aunt be angry that I am dating her boyfriend? No, sadly that thought never crosses Valentina’s mind.)

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END OF SPOILERS

The potential break up of the twins sounds beautiful, but it is bogged down in a multitude superfluous ideas and quick resolutions and non-resolutions that are pulled out of a hat. It is these strings of unresolved ideas and jumping conclusions that in part make the novel problematic. As though it needed to be edited down to focus on a well elaborated narrative strand or two, instead of swimming in a sea of abandoned notions.

Julia’s relationship with upstairs resident, Martin, is easily a favourite part. Martin is the most well developed and provocative character in the novel, though sadly not the main character. He is an intellectual and crossword creator suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), which makes him a prisoner to his apartment. Martin’s long time wife, Marijke, finally decides to leave him since she wants to be free of the demands of of his OCD rituals. She dares him to venture to follow her Amsterdam. Julia becomes fascinated with Martin and his routines. She sets out to help fix and investigate him. It through Martin that we learn more about Julia and her particular quirks that develop her into a separate and unique being from Valentina. As I said this is a patchwork of stories, Martin’s story is the best one and by far the most enjoyable. This side story of Martin, Julia and Marijke’s interaction and affection is gloriously romantic and unusual.  Martin’s story is almost enough to make me forgive the other mistakes, but sadly it is only a small section of the book. It is these moments of clarity and development in the novel that make me love it, but the rest of the novel, as I have said, lacks cohesion, which is disappointing.

There is a part of the book where Niffenegger describes Robert’s Ph.D thesis as though it had expanded and lost all perspective. That sentiment is a metaphor what happened to Her Fearful Symmetry. Like The Time Traveler’s Wife, Niffenegger spends a lot of time setting up great ideas, and then quickly forgets them as she proposes them. Her Fearful Symmetry truly embodies this scatterbrained-ness which only miffed me in The Time Traveler’s Wife, but now deeply irritates me. I am frustrated with Her Fearful Symmetry, because I can see an awesome story about Martin, his wife and Julia, but it is clouded by dregs of former ideas and a vacant fascination with identical twins.

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Tin Man

Tin Man

Revisiting, Rethinking and Remaking what we already love.

I am a re-reader. I love to read the same story over and over again.

Ever read a book that was so good you never wanted it to end? Or found yourself wondering what your favourite characters are doing after the novel is over? Or wondered how the book would have run its course if it had been told from a different  perspective? What if Harry Potter had been a point of view story written from the perspective of  Severus Snape? What if Star Wars was told from the perspective of the Empire? What happened to Holden Caulfield in the Catcher in the Rye? Are you a fan of cross overs and alternate universes? If you are, chances are you have or will enjoy fan fiction.

A fan fiction is a story created from a pre-existing narrative or from ready made characters. Sometimes the author is famous, but for the most part they are completely anonymous. Writers, filmmakers and artists don’t have to be entirely original to create a new work. There are plenty of established narratives, characters, places, etc. for authors to borrow and elaborate upon. It’s even debatable whether or not its even possible to come up with an original idea. Media is fulled with remakes and variations upon old ideas. That doesn’t make the appropriation of ideas any less interesting than the creation of originals. In someways, it is more interesting, since we always seem to be attracted to the same stories. We simply love reading, seeing and hearing the same stories over and over again. Umberto Eco addresses this love of repetition in ‘Innovation and Repetition: Between Modern and Post-Modern Aesthetics.’ We like to feel as though we are smarter than the author since we already now what is going to happen. I am one of many who love to hear the same story told from a different perspective and adore any alternative universe episode of any television series.  These variations add to what we already know about our beloved characters and places, and satisfy our need to form a profound and detailed relationship with a narrative.

60 years later

60 years later

Authors like the manga writing team CLAMP (X, Clover, Card Captor Sakura, xxxHolic) started out by writing fan fiction (dōjinshi) in the mid 1980s and began writing their own manga in 1987.  CLAMP produced a dōjinshi of  Captain Tsubasa, and homoerotic and/or homoromantic (yaoi) dōjinshi of Saint Seiya before creating RG Veda. Other famous examples of fan fiction are: are 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye by John David California based on the Catcher in the Rye, Gregory Maguire’s Wicked and Lion Among Men and the mini series Tin Man are Wizard of Oz fan fictions. Even the latest Star Trek film is an alternative universe version of Star Trek and AU is a form of fan fiction.

Authors such as Anne Rice and J.D Salinger do everything in the power to prevent the spread of their intellectual material. They protect their characters and stories, which may be why North America may never see 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye. Conversely, Harry Potter‘s J.K Rowling and Twilight‘s  Stephanie Meyer, don’t have a problem with fan fiction (if it makes money, well then, it’s a different story). Rowling simply doesn’t like the sexually explicit  Harry Potter fan variations. On Fanfiction.net and you’ll stumble upon hundreds of Hermione and Snape love stories and with over 400,000 Harry Potter fan fictions you may find some raunchy stuff.

Of course, not all fan fiction is famous or published in a traditional manner. Fanfiction.net allows users to post their inspired tales. Back in 2000 when I started to visit Fanfiction.net, I was surprised with the amount of sexually explicit material, which was very well labelled with warnings in uppercase letters. Readers were given enough information to avoid  ‘adult’ material if they wanted. Several fan fiction authors excelled in the erotic genre and I sincerely hope, they went on to form careers in erotic literature. In 2002, all NC-17 material had to be removed from Fanfiction.net and the entire erotic section was taken down. I point my finger at the literature prudes. It seems as though we enjoy our appropriation of narratives and characters to be sexual in nature. As though, authors and readers a like need to fill some urge to read about their two favourite characters finally ‘getting it on’.

PPZquirkNot all fan fiction is equal. Like regular book, you’ll run into bad writing or authors who simply do not have an in depth understanding of the characters or narrative they chose to appropriate. Websites like Fanfiction.net do not have any criteria for an author to post, so finding works of fiction that are littered with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors is fairly common. However, if you are willing to take the time, you will find a fan fiction that is a good read and adds to the original story in ways you’ve only dreamed of, and occasionally they do a better job than the original author. Readers and writers can revisit, rethink and remake what we already love and that is the simple joy of fan fiction.

Further reading:

Umberto Eco “Innovation and Repetition: Between Modern and Post-Modern Aesthetics,” The Moving Image 114. 4 (Fall, 1985): 161-184.

Umberto Eco The Open Work, trans. Anna Cancogni Cambridge Mass: Harvard University Press, 1989.

Vladimir Propp Morphology of the Folk Tale

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