noir

Readings: Lavie Tidhar

manliesI could tell you that A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar is a pulpy and visceral alternate history noir revenge fantasy, but no blurb can adequately describe what this book is. You can’t talk about it without spoilers, and I pity the person who had to do the blurb on the inside cover. It is vague and it’s vague on purpose. A bitter private detective is living in a world where Hitler’s party is no more, Germany is taken over by Communists, and Nazis are fleeing to England. In another world and time, a man in Auschwitz is dreaming of the world where a bitter private detective is living in a world where Hitler’s party is no more, and Nazis are fleeing to England. With me so far? The man dreaming happens to be a former writer of shund, which in prewar Yiddish theatre was considered to be cheap melodrama, trashy and vulgar. And so the world he dreams of is narrated in the manner of shund, with all the viscerality and vulgarity that it implies.

Perhaps A Man Lies Dreaming can best be described in its own words:

But to answer your question, to write of this Holocaust is to shout and scream, to tear and spit, let words fall like bloodied rain on the page; not with cold detachment but with fire and pain, in the language of shund, the language of shit and piss and puke, of pulp, a language of torrid covers and lurid emotions, of fantasy: this is an alien planet, Levi. This is Planet Auschwitz.

This pulpy quality might trick the reader into thinking that this is merely a noir/alternate history one reads in an afternoon and forgets the next day. This particular illusion is dispelled quickly as one gets deeper into the novel and sees layers and layers of symbolism within. It is worth reading the historical note at the end to get the full picture of how well-researched and intricate this novel is.

I find it both difficult and easy to recommend it. It is difficult because A Man Lies Dreaming is not a light book. It has plenty of R- and X-rated stuff inside. It is easy because it’s one of the most intense books I’ve read (at one point I told my friend that if I didn’t finish it in two days, my head would probably explode), and it will stay with me for a long time.

It’s been a solid week of amazing historical genre-bending fiction so far, which makes the task of choosing my next book victim quite difficult. The bar is really high.

 

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Re-reading the Dresden Files: Storm Front

Skin Game, the latest Harry Dresden book, is out, and is already getting incredibly good reviews (see here and here, for example). I really want to read it, but I have terrible memory for books and therefore lack sufficient lore knowledge to thoroughly enjoy the new volume. I have therefore started making my way through 14 previous Dresden books. This seems like a daunting task, but it’s really not: Dresden files are pure book candy and take only a few hours per book to read. I could have just looked through the Dresden Files wiki, but reading books is more fun.

And so I started with Storm Front, first published in 2000 with this cover:

stormfront1

Once the series became popular and famous, they handed the art off to Chris McGrath and reissued the first few installments with new covers:

stormfront

I’ll be honest, at some point in my SF reading career I got a bit tired of McGrath covers. Handsome humans walking or standing in Rembrandtesque light and shadow combinations, they all blurred into one image. That said, I still think McGrath is the perfect artist for Harry covers.* His Harry is, well, Harry. That’s the Harry in my head.

Storm Front is generally considered to be a fairly weak book. It was Butcher’s first attempt at the urban fantasy/noir mix. Every time someone recommends the Dresden Files, they inevitably have to say that the series gets better. It does indeed. In fact, I think at one point Butcher sells his soul to the fairie queen in exchange for some mad skills.

I finished Storm Front during my Saturday ‘Running With Books’ session, and I have to say it was better than I had expected it to be. Maybe my previous experience with the series influenced my reading. Maybe this whole business of ‘weak first book’ was too ingrained in my mind. It is definitely not as good as some later installments, but it does a good job at introducing us to Harry and at making us want to read more books with Harry as a main character. If there is such a thing as a literary crush, I have one on Harry Dresden. Too bad he is straight.**

Storm Front also sets some pieces in place for later books. We meet Morgan and find out about White Council. There are also some bits about Harry’s mother, his magical training, and his first love, that become very important later. In short, a lot of the scenery is a setup for later use, including characters involved in the main story (such as Johnny Marcone).

I was not awed by Storm Front, but reading it now reminded me why I continued reading the series many years ago.

On to Fool Moon.

 

* Also, putting ‘マトリックス’ (‘Matrix’ in Japanese) on the staff is a nice hilarious touch, and it is even mirrored like in the Matrix code.

** And also fictional. Sigh.