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Source: (consider it) Thread: July Book Group - The Buried Giant
Sarasa
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July's Book group pick is The Buried Giant by Kazoo Ishiguro. You can find out more about it here. .
As usual they'll be some questions posted about the 20th. I've never managed to read an Ishiguro book to the end so I'm interested to see how I get on with this one.

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Trudy Scrumptious

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Just picked this up from the library this afternoon. It's been on my radar for awhile but it always sounded like it might be a lot of work to read. Hopefully the fact that we're going to discuss it here will give me an incentive to get into it.

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Sarasa
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I started reading this last night, and so far am really enjoying the authorial voice and the setting. Quite intrigued to see where it will go.

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Aravis
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I read "Never let me go" and "Remains of the day" a few months ago, so was looking forward to this, but couldn't get into it. I read about half of it properly, skimmed the rest to see if it was going to improve and then took it back to the library.

There may be deep subtleties I've missed, but my impression was that he didn't really know where he was going with writing about a much earlier age. Give me Rosemary Sutcliffe any time. Or Geoffrey Treece.

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Trudy Scrumptious

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Three chapters in and I am already having A LOT OF THOUGHTS about this book. I hope enough other people join in that we can have a lively discussion of it.

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Dafyd
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I've read it. It's not exactly like anything else.

[ 08. July 2017, 22:33: Message edited by: Dafyd ]

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we remain, thanks to original sin, much in love with talking about, rather than with, one another. Rowan Williams

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Sarasa
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I'm glad they'll be a few of us to discuss it. I know what Aravis means about Treace and Sutcliffe, but the writing style so far reminds me of A Wizard of Earthsea more than anything else . If it was a children's book it wouldn't take so long to get going - I assume it is going to get going?
I must look up some Geoffrey Trease, he was one of my favourite writers when I was a child.

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Marama
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I apologise for missing out on discussing The Wonder - I was only in intermittent internet range for much on June. But I really intend to join in this time (I read and enjoyed The Wonder by the way)

Another one here who greatly enjoyed Geoffrey Trease as a child - I still have a copy of Cue for Treason, so will be interested to see how Ishiguro deals with historical fiction. I've read some of his work - what strikes me is how different each book is from the others. I enjoyed The Remains of the Day and Artist of a Floating World but couldn't get in to some of his others. We'll see how this one goes.

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Dafyd
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I'm a bit puzzled by the references to historical fiction and Geoffrey Treece. Is it spoiling things to say that's not the genre I would have put the book in? I think knowing genre helps and getting genre wrong doesn't help: Someone who reads Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go and expects a modern day Oliver Twist is going to be puzzled and disappointed.

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we remain, thanks to original sin, much in love with talking about, rather than with, one another. Rowan Williams

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Marama
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It may be that I have got the genre wrong- I haven't read it yet.

By the way, I seem to remember that both Geoffrey Trease and Henry Treece wrote historical fiction for children. I preferred Geoffrey, but it's easy to mix them up!

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Sarasa
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No it isn't really Treaselike, but I do seem to remember he wrote books set in Saxons times which this book sort of is. I must add one or two of his to my big to read pile.
I'm not quite sure, so far, in what genre I'd put The Buried GIant

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Dafyd
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quote:
Originally posted by Sarasa:
I'm not quite sure, so far, in what genre I'd put The Buried GIant

Magical realism (i.e. fantasy for people who wouldn't look at the books in the sf and fantasy section of the bookshop).

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we remain, thanks to original sin, much in love with talking about, rather than with, one another. Rowan Williams

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andras
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quote:
Originally posted by Dafyd:
quote:
Originally posted by Sarasa:
I'm not quite sure, so far, in what genre I'd put The Buried GIant

Magical realism (i.e. fantasy for people who wouldn't look at the books in the sf and fantasy section of the bookshop).
Would that be like The Handmaid's Tale, then?

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Brenda Clough
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Mmm. Know that magical realism is a defined subgenre. The ur-author and founder of the genre is Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Here is a discussion by an SF writer -- who says it's not fantasy or SF.

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Dafyd
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quote:
Originally posted by Brenda Clough:
Know that magical realism is a defined subgenre. The ur-author and founder of the genre is Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Here is a discussion by an SF writer -- who says it's not fantasy or SF.

I think magical realism considered as a specifically Latin American phenomenon goes back at least as far as Borges and Juan Rulfo. Kafka's Metamorphosis is similar and I suspect an ancestor.
I'm not convinced by the discussion by the SF writer. In particular I'm not convinced by the idea that it represents the beliefs of non-post-Enlightenment Westerners: the examples from Garcia Marquez don't really fit the description. I don't think anything in Borges fits the description.

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we remain, thanks to original sin, much in love with talking about, rather than with, one another. Rowan Williams

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Brenda Clough
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I -know- I do not write magical realism. I was annoyed when someone (who I could not at that moment contradict) announced that I did.

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Trudy Scrumptious

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Whatever the genre was originally defined as, I find the term "magic realism" gets used a hell of a lot in exactly the way Dafyd says -- to describe fantasy written by respected writers of literary fiction, when either they or their readers don't want to be associated with the fantasy genre.

I see the same thing used (by some people) with the term "speculative fiction" for sci-fi that people don't want to call sci-fi, which is the category I'd put The Handmaid's Tale in. Once an author has established their credentials as clearly big-L Literary, they can get away with writing stuff that's clearly sci-fi or fantasy and not get shoved into a "genre" corner, even though there is no difference that I can see between the actual genre they're writing.

To me, The Buried Giant is clearly a fantasy novel that uses a particular historical period as its backdrop -- but I wouldn't call it straight historical fiction because of the fantasy elements. The inclusion of those elements combined with the fact that I don't know the post-Roman/Saxon period very well, meant that it was difficult for me to tell with this book whether the elements that did purport to be historical, were accurately or well depicted.

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Trudy Scrumptious

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quote:
Originally posted by Marama:
I apologise for missing out on discussing The Wonder - I was only in intermittent internet range for much on June. But I really intend to join in this time (I read and enjoyed The Wonder by the way)


The thread on The Wonder is still open; please feel free to add any thoughts you have about the book there even though June has come and gone!

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andras
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quote:
Originally posted by Trudy Scrumptious:
Whatever the genre was originally defined as, I find the term "magic realism" gets used a hell of a lot in exactly the way Dafyd says -- to describe fantasy written by respected writers of literary fiction, when either they or their readers don't want to be associated with the fantasy genre.

I see the same thing used (by some people) with the term "speculative fiction" for sci-fi that people don't want to call sci-fi, which is the category I'd put The Handmaid's Tale in. Once an author has established their credentials as clearly big-L Literary, they can get away with writing stuff that's clearly sci-fi or fantasy and not get shoved into a "genre" corner, even though there is no difference that I can see between the actual genre they're writing.

To me, The Buried Giant is clearly a fantasy novel that uses a particular historical period as its backdrop -- but I wouldn't call it straight historical fiction because of the fantasy elements. The inclusion of those elements combined with the fact that I don't know the post-Roman/Saxon period very well, meant that it was difficult for me to tell with this book whether the elements that did purport to be historical, were accurately or well depicted.

Well, Historical Fantasy has a long and worthy pedigree, right back to Tobit at least. Or perhaps even to Gilgamesh!

Of course one can get terribly tied up trying to fit works written in previous centuries into our modern categories: parts of Gulliver's Voyage to Laputa are science fiction if they're anything, but I'm not sure how useful it is to apply that term to works written before, say, Jules Verne first put quill to paper.

But I think one essential of good Historical Fantasy is that the history has to be absolutely rock-solid; that is, it can be 'alternative history', but the links to our reality all have to tie up. That's why Pratchett's Dodger works so well.

Indeed, it was a little frightening while I was writing my own first adult novel to find that up-to-the-minute archaeological research confirmed something which I'd imagined and written about several months earlier. Spooky, but I know other people have had the same experience.

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Sarasa
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I've nearly finished the book and will be posting some very general questions tomorrow. Don't worry if you haven't finished or the questions intrigue you and you decide to start readng it, they'll be very general and the thread will be open as long as people are interested in discussing it.

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andras
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Not an easy read, I thought, but an interesting one. Nearly at the end myself.

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Sarasa
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A few questions to get the discussion going. Feel free to add more

1. We've already discussed this a bit, but do you think this book is in a recognisable genre. Does it matter if it is or isn't.

2. What did you think of the actualy story? Well plotted or not?

3. What did you think of 'the mist' as a device to move the story along?

4. If you are a fan of Ishiguro were you disappointed in this book?

5. If you've read other books set in this time period (either historical or fantasy fiction) how did this compare?

I'm going to be away for a few days, but I'll add my twopennyworth when I'm back.

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Dafyd
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quote:
Originally posted by Sarasa:
1. We've already discussed this a bit, but do you think this book is in a recognisable genre. Does it matter if it is or isn't.

It's got a dragon in it and a curse (or is it?) on the land and a quest to lift the 'curse'. So it's clearly fantasy.
It's also got a ferryman who is a transparent metaphor for death; post-Tolkien genre fantasy tends to avoid transparent metaphors these days. Also post-Tolkien genre fantasy tends to feature characters whose level of agency is higher than average for our world. The elderly couple who are the protagonists don't have that much agency. So although one could file it on the sf & fantasy section of the bookshelf I can see why one wouldn't (beyond Ishiguro having written literary novels in the past).

If you go into this thinking and wanting it to be historical fiction with no fantasy elements then you're going to not get on with it.

quote:
2. What did you think of the actualy story? Well plotted or not?
I don't remember it not being well plotted. There are possibly a couple of episodes that weren't essential to the plot.

I felt the final scene where the husband can't bring himself to travel with his wife was unearned; it felt more like an automatic refusal to be uplifting for the sake of not having an uplifting ending than the natural result of the story.

quote:
3. What did you think of 'the mist' as a device to move the story along?
I don't think the mist is a device to move the story along. The story is a device to talk about the mist.

quote:
4. If you are a fan of Ishiguro were you disappointed in this book?
I've only read Never Let Me Go.

quote:
5. If you've read other books set in this time period (either historical or fantasy fiction) how did this compare?
The Arthurian setting is I think very much in name only. The point of using it I think is to dissociate it from any real time period. There may or may not be a real geography but it doesn't feel like a real geography: I don't think anyone could draw a map on the basis of the book and say the Saxon settlements are obviously here and the British settlements here.

The question you don't ask is:
6. Was lifting the mist a good thing? Was the mist a price worth paying for peace?

(I think Ishiguro wants us to think the mist isn't a price worth paying. I'm inclined to think so myself; maybe I'm reading that opinion into the novel. The novel is trying to be ambiguous about it.)

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we remain, thanks to original sin, much in love with talking about, rather than with, one another. Rowan Williams

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andras
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I'd classed it as somewhere between Historical Fantasy and Quest. But in fact it's not particularly historical, and the apparent end of the quest seems to be a bit of a let-down (though that's not at all uncommon in Quest stories, and may even be an essential element of them - Odysseus gets home and only his dog recognises him / Frodo and the others return to the Shire and find Saruman in charge).

The dragon occurs in Welsh Arthurian tales, which may be where the idea for its inclusion here comes from. For example, when Vortigern (whose name means The Great Ruler) finds that every day's work on the tower he wishes to build is destroyed the next night, the young Merlin tells him that two dragons are fighting in a pit beneath it, and their struggles are what causes it to fall. And that too turns out to be a story about Britons and Saxons.

So - is the author reminding us that those who remember history are doomed to repeat it? If so, then boy, is he ever right! Much of the violence of the last century has been caused precisely by people who remember history, and think now would be a good time to avenge it.

An odd writing style, BTW; doesn't make for an easy read, I thought, especially in such a long book. Or is it a device to disguise trite thoughts by making them sound portentious? And am I a Philistine for thinking that?

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Marama
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1. We've already discussed this a bit, but do you think this book is in a recognisable genre? Does it matter if it is or isn't?
I think magical realism probably sums it up, with a quest as the main narrative device. It’s certainly not straight historical fiction. Tolkein seems the obvious point of comparison, but there are differences too, as Ishiguro includes recognisable historical elements – eg. the invasions of the Saxons – while Tolkien invents a whole new world. But I’m not sure it matters much.

2. What did you think of the actual story? Well plotted or not?
Slow moving, I found it quite a tough read. But the actual plotting is OK.

3. What did you think of 'the mist' as a device to move the story along?
Dafyd’s right: ‘The story is a device to talk about the mist’. Or alternatively the dragon’s breath; Merlin the trickster at it again, but from the best of motives.

4. If you are a fan of Ishiguro were you disappointed in this book?
I enjoyed ‘Remains of the Day’ and ‘Artist of the Floating World’, but abandoned ‘When We Were Orphans’ years ago. I find Ishiguro unpredictable; I’m prepared to try his novels but don’t always like them. This one I found heavy going, but I suspect it will stick in the mind.

5. If you've read other books set in this time period (either historical or fantasy fiction) how did this compare?
I haven’t read much set in this time period, apart from ‘King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table’ as a child (by Roger Lancelyn Green – I still have my copy) So little is known empirically that it’s a good period for mixed genre experiments like this one. After all, is Arthur historical as well as mythical? We don’t really know, excavations around Tintagel notwithstanding.

6. Was lifting the mist a good thing? Was the mist a price worth paying for peace?
Surely this is the crux of the book. While in general knowledge, leading to the taking of responsibility, is a good thing – and what makes us human – there are situations where a bit of amnesia wouldn’t go astray. Think Northern Ireland or some parts if the Balkans. Idolising ancient battles is not helpful. We are not told how much bloodshed resulted from the lifting of the amnesia, though the assumption is that it marks the beginnings of the major invasion of Saxons, and driving of the Britons into the west. It also challenges Axl and Beatrice’s marriage, or at least the way they understand it, when Beatrice’s infidelity is reevealed. The mist, Axl says ’allowed old wounds to heal’ – whether the son’s death or the infidelity is not clear – and the marriage to survive. I have recently read Alain de Botton’s ‘The Course of Love’; I think he would say a brief adulterous affair should not be seen as a marriage-breaker, and that hiding may be the best thing to do. But it’s not good enough for the boatman. Or is Ishiguro just saying that we all meet death alone?

It’s interesting too that the portrayal of Arthur counters the usually received narrative – here he is the leader of a slaughter, not the hero of Britain etc. The same could be said of monks and monasteries, here mostly portrayed negatively, though perhaps the Da Vinci code stuff has made us used to that.

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Sarasa
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1. We've already discussed this a bit, but do you think this book is in a recognisable genre. Does it matter if it is or isn't?
It seems to me to be a historical fantasy with a bit of not quite Tolkien thrown in. There was also a fait bit of the traditional ‘fairy story’ with picking up people as Beatrice and Axl went on their way, though that faded after a while. I don’t really see it as magic realism as I always think the world in that must be far more recognisable. This was rather vague as to setting.

2. What did you think of the actual story? Well plotted or not? 
The plot rather annoyed me as it wondered from place to place. The pixies for instance, how did they get out of that? There seemed too many dead ends that didn’t seem necessary as though Ishiguro felt he had to through everything at it. It also seemed very slow at times and then sped along rather too quickly.

3. What did you think of 'the mist' as a device to move the story along? 
Daffyd said: I don't think the mist is a device to move the story along. The story is a device to talk about the mist. I think it’s both. I wonder if he thought of the concept of mist and then came up with a story to explore it.

4. If you are a fan of Ishiguro were you disappointed in this book? 
I tried reading Remains of the Day, but didn’t get very far. This is the first one I’ve finished, and I can’t say it’s made me want to seek out others, though I understand this is a bit different to his usual style.

5. If you've read other books set in this time period (either historical or fantasy fiction) how did this compare?
I’ve just been walking Offa’s Dyke and I kept on trying to set the book in that sort of disputed area. It didn’t quite work, though it was very dark and misty due the rain bucketing down so that felt right. Earlier on in this discussion Trease was mentioned and I certainly enjoyed his book set in the Saxon period (Mist over Athelney?)much more. I also enjoy Tolkien and Morte D'Arthur a lot more than this too.

6. Was lifting the mist a good thing? Was the mist a price worth paying for peace?
This is the most interesting idea in the book. Can you forgive and forget? I once had a line manager who really hauled me over the coals about something relatively minor. I left that job and had forgotten all about the incident. Fifteen years later she was speaking at a conference I was attending and all I could think was ‘stupid cow’. I’d obviously forgotten but not forgiven. The mist as a solution was a sticking plaster, something stronger and much more difficult was needed. That wasn’t really explored in the book, intentionally I assume. It’s an interesting idea, but I don’t think the actual story really did it justice.

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Trudy Scrumptious

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quote:
Originally posted by Sarasa:
1. We've already discussed this a bit, but do you think this book is in a recognisable genre. Does it matter if it is or isn't?

I'd consider it a fantasy novel set in a historical era of our "real" world, important fantastic elements from the myths and folklore of that place and time (giants, ogres, pixies, dragons).

2. What did you think of the actual story? Well plotted or not? 

I didn't have a problem with the plot. In the second half of the book I was turning pages pretty quickly trying to figure out how it was all going to be resolved, which is usually a pretty good sign that the plot is working for me.

3. What did you think of 'the mist' as a device to move the story along? 

It intrigued me from the beginning. First I thought the general forgetfulness of everyone was just going to be a sort of background detail and it really annoyed me -- isn't he going to explain why these people can't retain any memories? So i was relieved when I realized this was going to be the major point of the book and that it would be fully explored, and I thought the reason for the mist was interesting and ingenious, as were the problems it posed.

4. If you are a fan of Ishiguro were you disappointed in this book? 

I haven't read anything else of his. They all sound interesting but in very different ways.

5. If you've read other books set in this time period (either historical or fantasy fiction) how did this compare?

I don't think I've read a book set in this era since The Mists of Avalon, when I was very young. I've probably read a few other Arthurian ones over the years that didn't stand out as much as that one. I can't recall a book set in the post-Arthurian period as this one is.

That bothered me a bit, in that I didn't know the era well enough to know which bits were historically accurate and which were the author's inventions. I mean obviously the fantasy elements were invented, but what about the description of Axl and Beatrice's village at the beginning, where they live in burrows dug into the side of a hill sort of like hobbits. Is that historically accurate? Was there a time when Britons lived in those sorts of homes?

Also the names Axl and Beatrice bothered me a bit as I didn't think they were likely to be historically accurate for people of that time, but wasn't sure.

6. Was lifting the mist a good thing? Was the mist a price worth paying for peace?

I'm the sort of person who THINKS I believe it's always better to know the truth, but I've discovered a few times in my real life that there are things I'd have been happier not knowing. I think the same applies to forgetting -- I believe in theory that we are the sum of all our experiences and that forgetting them, even the awful ones, would leave us poorer. Yet sometimes I can see the value of forgetting, allowing old wounds to heal by no longer picking at them. However, in the book I wanted the mist to be lifted even though I knew the results probably wouldn't be all to the good.

To add my own question: what did people think about the ending, and about Beatrice having to go alone despite the boatman's promises? I did feel that in the end it came down to the idea that death is a journey you do have to take alone, as someone else said here ... no matter how close you are to another person, they cannot make that final crossing with you. All you're left with is the hope, if that's an article of your faith, that there will be a reunion in some form, on the other side.

I found the book haunting and rather lovely; I think I liked it better than most people here did.

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Books and things.

I lied. There are no things. Just books.

Posts: 7296 | From: Closer to Paris than I am to Vancouver | Registered: Mar 2004  |  IP: Logged
andras
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I was going to say that anything that involves King Arthur is probably some sort of Historical Fantasy; then I remembered that one of the finest examples of Arthurian fiction, Sir Gawain and the Grene Knight, is actually set in what for the writer would have been an alternate reality - the High Middle Ages 'Arthurianised' - rather than in the past.

I'm never quite sure what Magical Realism means, but it's not a description that would have leapt to my mind, so I'll bow to those with greater knowledge of the genre.

It certainly isn't a 'bad' book, and I've quite enjoyed reading it; but I'm not at all sure that it's a work of genius. But then, to be fair, not much is!

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God's on holiday.
(Why borrow a cat?)
Adrian Plass

Posts: 410 | From: Tregaron | Registered: Dec 2001  |  IP: Logged


 
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