Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Narrative Thread

It has been a long time since I wrote about what I am reading.
This is largely due to me taking an unbelievably long time (for me) to finish The Country of Ice Cream Star.
Because I did not want it to end.
If I finished the book, I would no longer have those characters in my life and I knew I would miss them.
What finally precipitated me towards The End was the fact that, having recommended the novel to a colleague at work, she suddenly overtook me.  She was reading one step ahead of me, and I was not happy!  She knew things I did not know about "my friends"!
So I sat myself down one weekend and powered through the final third of the novel until it was done.
As expected, I was immediately bereft.  And rather grumpy that things did not turn out as I had hoped.  I foresee a sequel.  Oh dear.
What was so great about this book? 
The language.  Funnily enough that was the thing my colleague liked least about the novel.  It is written in a sort of street-talk, post-apocalyptic amalgam of languages and dialects.
It reminded me of sitting on the top deck of the 56 bus from Leyton to Islington with the schoolkids chattering away all around me.  After a few trips, I was aurally fluent, but would not have dared attempt to join in the conversation.  Every so often, I would be startled by a new turn of phrase, in one case from a girl who was learning Japanese at an after-school club.
In Ice Cream Star, the linguistic flashes are Russian, French, Spanish:  not enough to bewilder, but sufficient to infuse the narrative with extra energy and sparkle.
I ought to say that this is not "my sort of book" - I am easily spooked by sci-fi and dystopias.  I have a recurrent nightmare of trying to escape some unknown threat through an end-of-civilisation environment.
But I loved reading this book.
What next?
This is perhaps an even more unlikely choice. 
It seems that every knitting podcaster is watching a US TV series called "Outlander".  This is not yet available on the UK networks.  It is a tale of time-travel from 1945 Inverness to the mid-Eighteenth century Scottish Highlands.  It is a romantic blockbuster of a family-tree saga with haggis and bagpipes and a fair number of ripped bodices.  Even the Loch Ness monster pops in to say hello.
This is absolutely not my sort of thing.
But I have it on audio book (28 CDs for the first volume of the saga alone!) and I am hooked.
You can listen to an excerpt here.
The heroine is a nurse in World War 2, so when she is catapulted backwards through time after an unfortunate encounter with a ring of standing stones (um, yes...) she is put to use as an apothecary and healer, with free run of the castle herb garden.
So far, so Roo-friendly!
However, before I started on this listening marathon, I had been warned that the book and TV series were not suitable for children.  Until I reached Disc 10 I was quite scornful of this assessment.  Ha!  Disc 10 cranked up the sex and violence quota to an eye-watering degree.  If it wasn't for the accompanying wit and intrigue I would probably not have persevered. 
As I have the audio-book version, it is not as easy to skip ahead as I might have done in a print copy of the book.
And actually, the narrator (Davina Porter) puts on a splendid performance - her nuanced range of Scottish accents is formidable!  I would love to have sight of her annotated copy of the script to know how she reminds herself who is from the West Highlands and who is from East Lothian!
So do I recommend it?
Yes, with certain reservations.
If you are listening in the car, please remember to turn down the volume while waiting at traffic lights, unless you want to shock a cyclist off his bike...!
And if you had any plans to gift it to your prim and proper elderly Scottish mother for Christmas...?  Don't.


madeinoxford said...

It's been really funny hearing so many podcasters/mummy bloggers saying how wonderful Outlander is. In the other circles of the internet where I move, it and the author are somewhat notorious for the X-rated content! So hearing it talked about in circles that are normally taken up with gentle things was rather surprising - I'd assumed it was a different Outlander!

And I do love the idea of a nosy cyclist getting a bit of a shock :) Brilliant!

But there must be something in it, and the other book, if you're persevering with them. Sorry your first disappointed you, though. I hate it when that happens. Books are so immersive, it's always a shame when they don't turn out 'right' for you.

Anna said...

I've read all but the most recent Outlander books, there are large chunks that I skimmed through due to characters I didn't particularly care for or situations that annoyed me but generally they're not too bad. For some reason I think I'd feel a bit uncomfortable listening to someone reading out the sex scenes though, it would just seem a bit odd!

I will add the Ice Cream book to my list of things to read though, sounds interesting, although I'm a little tired of dystopian novels at the moment so it won't be any time soon!

Twelfthknit said...

Oh, Roo, you've gone over to the dark side ;0)

6955b77e-75aa-11e4-85a7-5b2bb6aab735 said...

I have to disagree to a certain extent - yes Outlander wouldn't be my first choice for Granny present, and no I don't think the magic standing stones are that possible either. However, what gripped (and still grips) millions of readers is not the sex or the fantasy bits. It is the very accurate character formation, the swinging narrative that keeps you wanting to read more (even some people who skipped bits still went ahead to follow the folks they liked best) and the fact that the author researches history and facts quite accurately (she has a background in science and has a PhD), also these people feel so real, you can't help but liking the book in the end. Add the fact that the author is quite prolific, I don't think a better book series was ever written. My little two penny's worth anyhow :-)

colesworth said...

My bookclub read Outlander over last christmas break. I had always thought it 'wasn't my sort of book' and then I was hooked. Invited book club over to watch the first TV episode.

It also got me knitting again after a 10 year break!

Now I have my the 2nd book on my kindle but after bumbling through it for a while I downloaded the audio that goes with it (yesterday - snap!)

If you want to check out the costuming for the TV series, have a look at the blog of Terry Dresbach.

Adele Terrill said...

Oh Roo, I always read your blog and think that Outlander is definitely your sort of thing! I have read the entire series, - several times.. during the last 20 years! I'm completely hooked largely because all the characters do become your friends. I find myself picking them up whenever I am stressed out because it is gripping and exciting enough to re-read, but I know how it all turns out so I am not surprised. Each time it is like reconnecting with old friends. You definitely need to get a print copy - and the next 7 books!

Linda Vass said...

I got hooked on the series - audiobook style- and am listening to book 5 as I sew. The character development is amazing, and I agree, the narrator is incredible. I read the companion the Outlander - basically a summary- that wasn't nearly as interesting as hearing the wonderful accents. Enjoy!

colleen said...

Very much enjoy hearing about what you are reading. My requests have already been posted with the wonderful on-line catalogue has already - three cheers for our wonderful libraries.

Karen S said...

I love the Outlander series. I've read all but the most recent book but I have it waiting in the wings. What I like about the series is all the detail that goes in to the historical aspects of the story. I also love the time travel idea.

Fiona said...

The series is being filmed here is Scotland. My dad knows a chap working as an extra, and my friend's brother-in-law is doing props n it.