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Today's book is read in a hurry, because of a bounce-off: I started by trying to read Zadie Smith's White Teeth.

White Teeth, well. I got about seventy-five pages into it. The thing is, it is not, objectively, bad. I can see why it got a lot of critical attention and made the author's reputation. The problem is that when I looked at the flap, I saw that the author was twenty-four at the time of publication, and that did not surprise me remotely. It has a great deal of verbal invention, a bold scope, what I suspect would have been a reasonable hand with plotting, and also a desperate case of over-quirky, of eccentricities and little details of people added for no reason other than-- well.

When one spends time around a certain kind of adolescent, this kind of adolescent will, at some point, say something along the lines of 'I'm the strangest person I know,' or 'It's all because I'm so weird,' or 'This place is just too normal for me,' and they are saying it to indicate that they are different, dammit, and desperate to indicate that difference to you somehow. If in particular extremities, they will cultivate habits sometimes that they don't even like just because they think they're the kind of habits weird people ought to have. There is a kind of desperation about it. Generally time cures it at least somewhat. This book's characters said to me, rather forlornly, 'Aren't we just the craziest most madcap odd set of people searching for love/validation/acceptance by the universe you've ever seen, and isn't it cute?' and I said, firmly, no, I would care so much more about you if you stopped trying to insist on how odd you are and were yourselves without this worry about it, and closed the book.

But Smith is not an author I am prepared to write off just yet, as the skill was there, and a voice, an eye, if not yet content. I see she has written two books since, and may well try the later, as five years and more novels change a person. I am also prepared to accept the idea that I may have been in the wrong mood, and that one person's cloying is another one's charming, as it's certainly happened before.

As to the book I actually read, The Mermaid Summer is a fairy tale set somewhere in the Outer Hebrides, with a mermaid and a curse and a village and a fishing fleet and a jade comb the color of the mermaid's eyes, and I enjoyed it despite absolutely hating the prose, which is unusual for me. Usually prose I can't take is a book-killer. Full of exclamation points, it was, but the story itself is effective and the book continually remembers how full of work the life of a fishing village is and has to be, when everything comes back to sheer subsistence. Both better than it could have been and better than, from the first few pages, I expected; though I'm not sure I'd recommend it to adults, generally, unless this is the sort of book you always like. But I'd have loved it desperately as a child and could tell that now-- it's a very good mermaid and they're rare. (And thank you, [personal profile] sovay, for mentioning that somehow I had missed Mollie Hunter.)


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March 2017

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