‘Artemis Fowl’, E. Colfer

“Ambition had a price, and that price was friendship.”
— Colfer, Eoin (2010-06-03). Artemis Fowl (Kindle Locations 2176-2177). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

I heard of ‘Artemis Fowl’ a long time ago but got around to reading the book only recently. While my general impression of the novel is rather favourable, I am not entirely confident I would continue with reading the rest of Mr Colfer’s works immediately — but I’ll tell you why — and I would return to the good author in due time.

To begin with, ‘Artemis Fowl’ is an amazing book in the simplicity of style. It is written as a children’s book, I would expect, and this would be a part of why the book is so friendly and inviting as well as easy on the eye.

Despite this style, I would not, however, say that it is necessarily easy on the mind. I had great fun trying to figure out what Artemis and the LEP would do next, and I didn’t mind the somewhat fantastical setting which seems to have been created in the most well-intentioned manner possible. “Fairies?”, one might think. But, yes, ‘Fairies’! And not the good fairies that never do wrong, but fallible fairies and ones who are rather human in some of their traits. And what could be more fun than noticing the humanity in others?

I think that the very similar yet strange world-setting is what allows this book to be so simple and yet not off-putting. Yet, I can imagine many a person looking at it and shying away, but I do believe that it has a charm that should be recognized.

Now, if all of what I’ve said above is so positive, why was I not so positive in the beginning of this post?

I think I would have liked this far more had I read it ten years ago or ten years from now. At the present, this style looks to me in a way as a mimicry of J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’, and there can only be one of those in my heart and mind.

The same charm that the simplistic yet clever style that consults the reader every now and then, this very same charm can also be a bullet which rebounds upon the weapon that launched it in the first place. I am not of a mind to wish that the rest of Mr Colfer’s works were any different in their writing, but I do hope that they make me think less of what could have been in this book and more of what there already was.

‘Confidence is ignorance,’ advised the centaur. ‘If you’re feeling cocky, it’s because there’s something you don’t know.’
— Colfer, Eoin (2010-06-03). Artemis Fowl (p. 44). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

Quoting John Gray (Quoting J.G. Ballard)

“I think Ballard was on to something important when he talked about how things that humans have constructed can be beautiful in ways that they don’t understand. What I like about his writing is the lyricism: his novels are full of the most beautiful images. He always said he wanted to be a painter, but didn’t have the talent. But when you read his books you see they are galleries of images.”

This quote is taken from a recent interview with the author John Gray that can be found at this address. Why this remained in my mind after I’d read through the sentence was the eloquent imagery: and potentially the simplest of truths.

Do we ever know when something we do/have/see is beautiful? And if that is ever the case, would it not be that it would be our human understanding of beauty — that is, our fancy at any given moment and not something that could be considered universally beautiful?

I would think our bias in every moment is enough to disturb our minds — but that means I am even more prone to letting my mind continue to work without understanding it perfectly.

It is the image in our mind that will be important in the end.

 

‘The Tatar Whirlwind’, Ryotaro Shiba

I managed to finally finish Mr Shiba’s ‘The Tatar Whirlwind’ on Friday — given that I started the book in late September/ early October, this seems like a very long time. All of this time can be explained reasonably well though, and it is also a factor bringing out the best and the worst in this book.

I’ll start with the thought that this is an incredibly detailed work. The setting is early seventeenth century Japan and China where we observe the journeys of an “emissary” of the Hirado domain to the to-be Qing dynasty. As is typical of the author, a large part of work seems to have gone into the research to make the book historically accurate as well as linguistically coherent. The number of Chinese (and Jurchen, and Korean) characters that come up in the book is quite considerable, and insofar as possible there is an overview of what the person was and how his life was spent up to the point where he (or she) was encountered in the story. This leads the writer off on a number of spirals, but I find them rather interesting — plus, the additional detail only adds to the value of the work.

The main setback of this novel is that the translation is incredibly poor — at least compared to the excellent standard set by Juliet Winters Carpenter in translating ‘Saka no ue no kumo’ and ‘Saigo no Shōgun’, this book as seen in the words of Joshua A. Fogel is nowhere near what I was expecting. Namely, what I find is that though paragraphs themselves are still coherent and have a nice flow, the same is often broken between paragraphs by a change of thought that is too abrupt.

As a bigger problem, this book was originally published as a serialized novel. The translator does not seem to have gone through very much effort to get rid of the marks of serialization leading to rather severe repetitions only a few pages over from when some things were mentioned originally. While I see the wish to remain true to the original version, I do have to say that some things could be cut by common sense. I find it hard to believe that the book read well to Mr Fogel in English in the present state.

The above is also why it took me that long to read: I found it easiest to actually try to forget some of what had just occurred since no doubt it would be mentioned again, so that picking ‘The Tatar Whirlwind’ up after a few days since I’d last read it turned into a viable reading method. This doesn’t sound like the best of ideas, but I had no wish to return to the book too soon — until the ending was in sight and the story quickened up quite a bit.

Once interesting device Mr Shiba has used in this book a bit more than in previous ones is explaining what his characters are saying. Yes, he does that elsewhere where the meaning is hidden, but quite probably since we’re now dealing with China and the Chinese culture, there is far more of the hidden language taunting/hinting than before (as a bad example, this would not be unlikely to happen in the book: one character says to the other: “This spring is beautiful, is it not?” as an implication that the other was cowardly and ran too fast to see the budding leaves — mind you, this  “example” I’ve concocted entirely on my own so as I said before it is a severely lacking although in the same general category).

If the above hasn’t made you want to not read it yet, I’d say go ahead: the historicity of the work makes it worth going through for anyone interested in Mr Shiba’s work or the period in Northern China.

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