The Peregrine by J.A. Baker

Turns out the version I purchased of  The Peregrine also contains another writing, ‘Hills of Summer’, so I was much nearer to the end than I thought in my previous post. I’m now finished, and it ends just as it began, with prose of the highest order.

This is the kind of book that can only really be appreciated by someone who is a writer, or someone who reads a LOT, or someone who is a fanatic about nature. Fortunately for me, I am 2.5 of those, so I enjoyed it immensely.

There is barely a plot, so be forewarned. This is, on the surface, a series of journal entries written by someone who is watching hawks(peregrines). Every few days, a journal entry of what he saw that day, focusing on the hawks.

But there is a sort of arc to it. Each entry, the writer gets more and more obsessed with the hawks, and starts to imagine that they are accepting him as one of their own. He writes increasing asides about how humans suck (in prettier words) and the hawks are glorious and amazing. The end of the book is a clear end and is great when you look at the whole thing in context.

But, for someone looking for an actual story with plot and tension and conflict and enemies and goodguys, you’re not going to get that.

What you will get is prose that is so delicious and rich and new and perfect that you’ll be highlighting every other line. And you’ll get birds and nature up to your eyes and beyond, you’ll get imagery so lush you’ll drown in it in the most wonderful way.

If you’re a writer, you’ll appreciate the skill. If you’re a reader of many things you’ll appreciate the newness (maybe) and if you love nature, it will make you feel like you’re out in it.

Give it a shot!

A slow burning fuse

I’m still reading  The Peregrine , and it is taking me a while. It is such beautiful writing but with no conflict, it is easy to set it down. But I always come back eventually, for the beautiful writing. It’s like an expensive box of rare chocolate, you have one now and then and savor it, instead of wolfing it all down in one sitting.

But now, about 30% through the novel, it is starting to grab me with interesting things. Things other than descriptions of nature. It took a long time to get there, but I don’t think it would have been possible without all the buildup and setting of the tone and scene. And it is amazing, once it starts…

Now I’m getting the ‘what will happen’ urge to go back to it. Now I know something strange is going on, and I wonder what the conclusion will be. But I really don’t think it could have been done if it just started out that way.

Some things require patience and build up and preparation… sadly, things most people don’t have time for in entertainment anymore. If something isn’t exploding on page one, we put the book down.

I found myself imagining how a movie of this would be. Just shots of birds and animals, and a man walking through nature, watching, and his reactions to it and slow change in personality… no dialogue, no running around shooting or crying or fighting or arguing. Just shots of hawks killing wood-pigeons, and the man staring weirdly at the picked clean bones.

I’d watch it… but it would never be made.

 

Rejection

I often feel like I’m in an unresolved quantum state of love/hate toward my own writing. It fluctuates so quickly sometimes that I can’t even read it. Nothing cures that like a rejection. Rejections magnify all faults and mute all positives. Now, maybe I can actually look at this story long enough to work on it. It’s been a while since I’ve been in the submission game, got to get used to this distressing waiting and constant disappointment again!

More word peeves

Here are a couple more things people do with words that annoy me!

Writing voila as wala: Of course one might leave the accent off foreign words when typing them, but this is just too much.

Saying you could care less when you mean you couldn’t care less: Saying you COULD care less means that you actually care. You could care a huge amount for all I know.

 

Exploring

Writing a story based in a city I’ve never been in is interesting, and fun. I wonder how writers did it before the age of the internet. I can drop down into the streets and virtually walk them to get a feel for the city. I can look up bars and restaurants and read reviews and see pictures. Some even have virtual tours.

I have a feeling writers of the past had to be much more social than I do. They probably had to seek out people who’d been there and have conversations with them, pull out details, encourage descriptions of smells and sounds and ambiance.

Sounds like a lot of trouble!

Great humor

I’ve started listening to Great Expectations   and am finding it very entertaining. He is quite adept at painting his characters in very memorable and overblown ways, while still keeping them from being caricatures or ridiculous. I’ve been laughing out loud a lot with this one so far.

I wonder why all these classic novels have such boring covers that look like old paintings you’d find in a museum. It really doesn’t do much to give an impression of what’s inside the book at all. Maybe more people would read classics if they got updated covers and dust jacket descriptions…

The Looking Glass War, by John le Carre

The Looking Glass War , the second le Carre novel I’ve read, was much different from  The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. It was about a completely other department, in fact, called ‘the department.’ The department doesn’t usually send spies out into action, but they think, hey, why shouldn’t we do that too? And a huge mess follows.

That is pretty much the book in a nutshell: people who really shouldn’t be doing a thing, trying to do it and screwing up royally. But the way he writes it is so subtle and expert that it is just fascinating. The characters are so well drawn, that you just KNOW people like that in real life. The arrogance, the flippancy, the disregard for people with better knowledge and experience, the hubris. So many times I put my hand over my face and said ‘you idiot.’

But it is not a caricature, or overdone, or a straw-man. I went back and forth the whole book thinking ‘wait, maybe they know what they’re doing?’

This whole novel seems to be a foil for his other characters, to make them look even more competent. Well, it worked.

My only complaint is that reading about incompetence is much less intriguing than competence. But, this was a great read nonetheless!