Saturday, 12 August 2006

Page Turners: Across the Nightingale Floor

Author: Lian Hearn
Leader: Me
Host: Ania
Theme: Japanese food (miso soup and green tea cake)

We actually discussed this novel onThursday 3 August, but I've not had time to post about it. I want to try to post a summary of all our meetings (held monthly), even if more than a week late.

Brief synopsis: Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn is a fantasy novel set in an imaginary world that is unashamedly based on feudal Japan. Takeo is the central character, a boy of 16 raised in a remote mountain village, whose world falls apart when the village is attacked by Lord Iida Sadamu. From the beginning, when he escapes Iida's sword, it is clear that Takeo has unique abilities. He is rescued (apparently coincidentally) by the passing Lord Otori Shigeru, who happens to have a personal vendetta against Iida himself. Shigeru adopts Takeo into the Otori clan and proceeds to have him educated as both a young man of the warrior class, and also a member of the 'Tribe', a mysterious group of assassins with supernatural abilities like Takeo's. There follows a plot involving feuding clans, political scheming, secret love and plans for revenge. Interwoven with Takeo's story is that of Kaede, a girl of the warrior class who is used as a hostage to ensure the 'good behaviour' of her father. She is treated like a pawn and bundled off to be married to Shigeru - only to fall in love with Takeo. The climax takes place in Lord Iida's city, where everything unravels with tragic consequences.

An interesting point of difference among reviewers of this book - and also the members of Page Turners - was the writing style. It is written very simply. Some interpret this to mean it's written for children, or by an inexperienced author. Others (including me) considered the writing elegant in its simplicity. The author herself stated "I am fascinated by the use of silence and assymetry. I like the concept of ma: the space between that enables perception occur. I wanted to see if I could use silence in writing. So the style is spare, elliptal and suggestive. What is not said is as important as what is stated."

I responded to this style, but many did not, finding it too simplistic, lacking in detail and a barrier to empathising with characters. Some in the group said they didn't care whether Takeo lived or died.

We probably didn't have the best discussion of this book, and that was my fault. In leading the discussion, I had a tendency to analysis its effectiveness as a piece of fiction, such as looking at how well the characters were defined, whether a reader believed in the character relationships, and whether certain scenes were dramatic enough. This was probably not the best angle to take, because most readers don't analyse a book in quite the same way as I do as a writer. In general they enjoyed reading it, but didn't much like pulling it to pieces. I feel a bit bad about that. It's a lesson for me on how not to lead a book discussion.

But perhaps I'm not being entirely fair to myself. As a story it is really very simple, and its uniqueness and interest come for the most part directly from the writing style and the setting. It deals with the common themes of revenge, loyalty and betrayal - plus the subjegation of women! We didn't end up talking about any of these much.

I personally found this book really powerful, and posted on it 17 July, just after I finished reading it (see Books that make you cry). I always find it interesting when others have such different opinions to mine - it always take me by surprise!

We are now reading Orlando by Virginia Woolf, and I will try to post on that sooner after the discussion . . .

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