rushthatspeaks: (Default)
Review copy sent by the publisher.

Okay, so. There is one way in which this book is one of the most pretentious things that has come by me in some while, although there is also a way in which I understand what the author is trying to do. Only it doesn't work. Mostly.

Tanith Lee has in the past written under the pseudonym Esther Garber. In this collection, she claims to be writing both as and with Esther Garber, and both as and with Esther's half-brother, Judas Garbah. The foreword goes into this a bit: it's one of those things where these aren't really pseudonyms to her, but rather characters, since the stories she's written under those names are (mostly) autobiography of the pseudonyms. This, combined with the power that a pseudonym can have to change a writer's voice, allow them to free themselves of various inhibitions etc., means that she wants to allow the pseudonyms full authorial credit while nonetheless admitting to them as pseudonyms.

As I've said, I kind of get this. Except for how it comes across, which is, well, pretentious beyond imagination. Because, the thing is, if you the author are going to insist that I suspend my disbelief in this particular set of directions, then you the author must have a sufficiently different authorial voice, a set of things that cannot be said other than in this way, in short must have a sufficiently different set of actual personae to justify it. And while this collection is not, in fact, in the voice I mentally think of as 'usual Tanith Lee', it is not in anyone else's voice either. Except a sort of sub-Angela-Carter something-or-other. Also, as far as I can tell, the things she can't say except in this way involve a lot of semi-explicit gay and lesbian sex.

... I must have missed something. How is it that Tanith Lee requires pseudonymity to write, semi-explicitly, about gay and lesbian sex, in a book whose foreword is dated 2009? Tanith Lee was writing kinkier things than this in the 1970s and I have read them.

In short, this collection is centered around a gimmick which does not work, and which fails to support stories that do not work either. Esther's pieces are mostly about Unattainable Women Who Might Be Ghosts Or Something, and Judas's are about Dangerous Young Men Who Throw Him Down Stairways; there is a lot of weirdness about the way people are about the ethnic backgrounds of the pseudonyms in a way that just feels off to me in some direction (exoticizing?), and I think it says something that the one (one) readable story in the collection is credited to both Esther and... Tanith Lee.

That said, if the one readable story in here has been anthologized elsewhere, it's actually pretty good. It's called 'Death and the Maiden', and involves a young woman who gets picked up by the wife of a famous pre-Raphaelite-type painter, only to discover that she's been picked up to seduce the woman's daughter. The painter has spent years instilling in his daughter an ideal of Pure Womanhood stolen from Coventry Patmore by way of The Taming of the Shrew, and the mother will at this point do quite a lot to get her daughter to break her self-and-parentally-imposed role and think for herself for a minute. As it turns out, things are extremely much more perverse than anyone, including me, expected, and not in the directions you are thinking of or I was thinking of. In fact, I sat back and blinked at the end of the story and said 'huh, I haven't seen that one before and it was genuinely vaguely creepy'.

But it is not worth picking up the rest of the collection to get. Maybe if you see it in a library. The rest of the collection ranged from 'boring' to 'I think Colette already wrote that' to 'I think Angela Carter already wrote a parody of Colette writing that', to, in one impressive case, 'I think Angela Carter already wrote a pastiche of Isak Dinesen writing a paraphrase of Colette writing that', which is to say seen it, and, I guarantee, so has everybody else, even if you have not read the specific works to which I'm referring, because cliche can be a very universal language.

Does anybody want this book? I'll mail it to you.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
I think reading Tanith Lee in a fever dream may be redundant.

Anyway, [personal profile] sovay recommended this one-- I'd read Saint Fire, which is in this continuity, and it annoyed me so much in so many various directions that I read nothing else in the series. (I can best describe Saint Fire as precisely the wrong way to retell Joan of Arc. For one thing, she does not work when set in Venice.) [personal profile] sovay reminded me that with Tanith Lee there is no relationship in quality between the books in a series,except that the later ones are marginally less likely to be interesting. And I wanted an antidote for Dragon Hoard, which was the sort of book that makes one doubt even the very long acquaintanceship one may have had with an author.

So this is one of the books set in Venus, which is Lee's alternate version of Venice, as her books of Paradys are set in Paris; and I think that Venice is really a very good use of Lee's talents. This is one of those books in which the atmosphere is slightly more than half the point. If you like books full of crumbling decadence and images through water and clever little classical allusions, which I do, this meets those desires, but unlike much of Lee it has a formal structure and her symbols are dealt out with some attention to overall resonance. I mean to say, this is a book in which she is in control of her material, of which I always approve.

There is a young man, who is rather more than ordinarily a Byronic protagonist, for reasons which are good and sufficient (and funny). There is a young woman, who suffers from the lifelong affliction of being made far too often into a symbol of something or other. There are various desperadoes and courtesans and gondoliers; there is a very good magpie. There is an alchemist of whom I can only think as Lee's attempt to put one in the eye at Shakespeare-- the entire plot has an awareness of The Merchant of Venice as something it is intentionally working against. There are evil masks, of course, because it is a Tanith Lee novel. I don't think I'd recommend it to outright Lee-haters, but it is definitely one of her stronger, and I am very glad not to have missed it.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
This review is of a book I read on September twelfth.

I picked this up at Myopic Books in Providence, RI, over the weekend, with [personal profile] sovay. It's a very good bookstore-- I also got a copy of Alan Garner's The Stone Book Quartet, which I've wanted for a long time.

This is not a Lee I'd heard of, although it is one of the MagicQuest line of YA reprints from the eighties, and I tend to like those, as they did things like Patricia McKillip's The Throme of the Erril of Sherril and Elizabeth Marie Pope's The Sherwood Ring. Dragon Hoard turns out to be Lee's first novel, and if I had been given a copy without a cover and asked to guess the author, she would not have been in the top twenty-five guesses.

When I think of Tanith Lee, I usually think of lush language, a certain kind of passionate and sometimes perverse sexuality, a way with single images and set-pieces, and occasional lapses into the pointlessly depressing (as opposed to the pointfully depressing, which she also engages in).

Until this book, I had never actually, when considering Tanith Lee, thought the word 'twee'. )


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