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2.06.2009

Chalice

It's raining buckets, and of course that's a good thing. I'd like to remind all my Californian readers that there are plants in the world that don't have sprinkler systems to feed them. Though, I probably shouldn't be allowed to drive in the rain. Just not a good thing for the People. Even so, I'm making the trip back to my place of work in about in hour so that I can join coworkers for dinner and a movie. Coraline!!!! Can't hardly wait. We've been selling the book like bananas to strays. It's pretty incroyable.

So, I read Chalice, by our favorite Robin McKinley yesterday. That is, I finished it yesterday. Did I like it? Good question. As Jenny B. and I were saying the other day (on the couch - not on the blog. Don't go checking your references), McKinley has a habit of writing half of her novels with rich, concrete detail, fleshy, earthy, human stuff. And then half-way through, some bit of magic happens and everything gets vague. I don't mind vague - and I don't mind magic - but the contrast between pre-magic and most-magic is startling and difficult. You keep reading, expecting all the beautiful clarity and comprehension of the first bits, only to find the story morphing into colorful smoke all around you. It worked well in Beauty, and I managed to brush it off in The Hero and the Crown (mostly because I respect the opinion of the Newbery more than my own, and because I was growing increasingly fond of the vague and bizarre blonde mountain-dwelling man who habitually popped up in dreams and jungles and deserts. In the book, of course. Not in my real life.). But it did not work in Rose Daughter - mostly because the vagueness heralded cataclysms without source and unidentified Bad Guys and a triumph of the heroine that more or less constituted her shouting 'cut it out' to all the mysterious muck and watching whatever it was turn into hedgehogs. 'What???' That's what I said.

That hasn't stopped me reading her, though. I was excited, because Chalice is a relatively new book and it has a pretty cover. And the main character, according to the blurb, is a beekeeper. Very cool. So I read it.

The most significant difference between this and her other novels is that most of her others, as I said, begin with a beautifully fleshed out world of clarity and comprehension. Chalice does not. From the beginning, you find yourself moving around in a fog of characters in a fog of a made-up world in which earthlines speak to people of the right bloodline, particularly Chalice who is sometimes the Chalice and sometimes just Mirasol. It would be a fascinating world, I think, if I could ever lift the fog and just look at it. But Chalice or the Chalice is confused so we have to be confused too. I guess that's the reasoning. In The Hero and the Crown, McKinley begins en media res - and I have never read a more perfect example of that literary tradition. She does the same in Chalice, but with far less effective results. On the contrary, where in Hero the gradual revelation of backstory gives you an increasing sense of confidence and curiosity in the story, the backstory of Chalice offers no firm footing in the already murky waters of the fictional world.

I know I am being critical, and it might be difficult for you to believe that I actually liked the book. But I did. The fire-guy was pretty awesome, when he wasn't fattly lumbering between fearful attendants, and the bees were wholly satisfying. My favorite scene was when she woke up nearly frozen on the Listening Hill and the fire-guy was all fiery and thawing. But I must admit that the same scene - or something much like it - could be found in Beauty, The Hero and the Crown, and Rose Daughter. And if I re-read Spindle's End and Deerskin, I wouldn't be too surprised if I found it in those books as well.

2 comments:

  1. mmm .. i enjoy mckinley. haven't had a chance to read chalice yet, but someday i might :) have you read sunshine? that is my favorite of hers. beauty and the beast. except that the beast is a vampire ..

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  2. sunshine is sitting on my dresser. i expect it will be much better than chalice. i am fascinated by the story of beauty and the beast, which is probably why i don't really mind that most of mckinley's novels are somehow derived from it. though i think it's about time that someone wrote the story from the beast's point of view... if i ever finish the other stories i'm working on, it just might happen. :)
    how's romania?

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