It is hard for me to believe that April is drawing to a close, but here we are. Between not working much and finishing up my final semester of school, I was only able to complete two books:
The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker
A friend recommended this one to me and I thought that since I enjoyed Abarat it would be worthwhile to explore some of Barker’s earlier works. Rumor had it that this was a great piece of horror fiction; the sort of fiction that makes my heart beat a little faster and the hair on my arms stand up. Unfortunately, The Hellbound Heart, though a clever little novella, did nothing of the sort. There were moments in The Vampire Lestat, which terrified me more than this little book ever will. However, that isn’t to say the book was entirely without merit.
The plot is centered on a curious device—Lemarchand’s Box—a puzzle box that serves as a gateway to a world of “great pleasures.” These great pleasures turn out to be a group of deformed creatures, Cenobites, who gain this pleasure through the most violent means imaginable. This, for me, was the highlight of the book. I thought the idea of a puzzle box that opens up gateways to different worlds was quite exhilarating, but as the characters were introduced to the story my pleasure decidedly stopped.
Like in Abarat, Barker utilizes plots that are very predictable and devoid of the little twists and subtle turns that make a truly great piece of literature. The moment Rory and Julia move into the dark little house where Rory’s brother, Frank, opened the box, I knew more or less what was going to happen next. The very flat, unchanging characters do little to relieve the banality of the overarching plot. The only character of interest is Kirsty and this might be due, in part, to the fact that she is ultimately the hero of this unfortunate tale.
All this said, there is only so much that an author can accomplish in a tale so short. The Hellbound Heart is the sort of work that can be enjoyed in one sitting on a dreary afternoon with a cup of tea. It may not be particularly thought provoking, but Barker’s novella still offers readers some dark, violent entertainment that had me smiling on several occasions.
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
If more popular fiction was written like Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha, I would not be as disgusted as I am every time I walk into Barnes & Noble to find stacks upon stacks of the latest bestseller. Golden’s fictional narrative of the life of geisha, Nitta Sayuri, is a beautifully painted, captivating work of modern literature. The novel, told in the first person, takes advantage of the popularity of memoirs and brings to life the enchanting, fairy-tale like story of Sayuri from her childhood as a fisherman’s daughter, to her transformation as a geisha in Kyoto, and finally ends with her retelling her story to a professor in New York.
There is little for me to say about this novel that has not been stated somewhere before, so my only advice is to read it and experience it first hand. Golden’s prose is breathtaking in its elegance. His descriptions of the daily life of Sayuri in Gion, right down to his discussions of a geisha’s makeup is truly magnificent. This novel is written in such a way that Golden breathes life into his characters and settings, so that even one unfamiliar with the foreign items, clothing, and images can still create a vivid picture in her mind.
Admittedly, I had been a fan of the movie years before I ever planned on picking up this book. The movie, however, loses so many of the subtle twists and turns and trials that Sayuri must suffer through in her life. The format of the book itself, with its conversational style, makes it seem all the more real to the reader.
My only complaint lies in the fact that the narrative moves very slowly and as a result I had a hard time “getting into it” so to speak. It took some getting used to before I could really appreciate the story for what it was, instead of sitting around wondering when something interesting was going to happen. Truly, some of the most enchanting moments of Golden’s novel are not the turns of the gears of plot but instead lie within his fluid descriptions of minute details – the kimono Sayuri wears, the scenery that surrounds her, the people that she meets.