I meant to do that . . . .?

It may look like I’ve been cherry-picking reviews that speak positively of Midnight Never Come, but the truth is I post everything that makes a substantive comment on the book. (I don’t figure you all want to see every post that mentions it in passing; possibly you don’t even want to see what I do post.) Anyway, as if to prove that, this roundup is a mixed-to-negative bag — for some reason I hit a run of less enthusiastic reviews lately.

occultatio read it right after finishing Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles, which is the fastest way I can think of to make my book suck. I will be the first in line to admit that, by comparison with her, my writing is lightweight. But if I work very hard and eat my vegetables, one day I may grow mighty enough to equal her first novel. (Pardon me while I go cry again over the fact that she was that damn good right out of the gate.)

meganbmoore liked it in the end, but found the opening overly political and slow-going.

Trinuviel at FantasyBookSpot loved the premise and structure, but the execution just did not come through for her. Despite that, I recommend you go read her review if you like digging past the surface; she clearly knows her way around the Tudor period, and says many intelligent things about my structural choices.

And then a glowing review, to wrap this set up: Lory Hess at the Green Man Review stayed up way past midnight reading it. (And made my day by being the only person so far to make mention of the alchemical allusion at the beginning of Act I. That was a shout-out to my Memento peeps.)


Here’s the funny thing about Trinuviel’s review, which I’d like to discuss more. As I said, she knows her history, and brings up the motif of doubling in Elizabethan thought, connecting that with my mirroring of Elizabeth and Invidiana.

If I were smart, I’d let you believe I planned that all along. Truth is? I didn’t. At the time that I thought up Invidiana, I had no idea that doubling was a thing back then, and I’d never heard of the king’s two bodies. I came across it later, certainly — I don’t think I could have done that much research and missed it — but even then, it never occurred to me to turn around and connect that to the idea already in place.

All the things she says about the way the doubling plays out were most definitely deliberate, but the idea itself was a felicitous accident. Which is something I’ve wondered about ever since I started writing seriously enough to think about the kinds of things we tend to say in English classes and research papers: how much of what we see in a story is deliberate? This gets into the whole “the author is dead” notion in literary criticism, and I’m on the fence about that. On the one hand, being an anthropologist and a writer myself, I always want to know about the person behind the words, the ways in which the author and the context of creation can shed new light on the story you read. On the other hand, sometimes you can find perfectly legitimate meanings in a text that were created completely by accident. It’s why I’m always careful to phrase things as “you can read this out of it” unless I know for a fact that the author put it in there on purpose.

At any rate, her comments are food for thought — especially since I’m currently trying to decide how seventeenth-century fae, influenced by contemporary mortal ideas, might handle the issue of legal justice. I think we have a tendency to cut our fantasy creations slack, to behave as if absolutism and arbitrary sentencing are somehow more attractive when they’re done by a faerie, but this strikes me as a fine time to poke holes in that idea. (Now I just need to figure out how to follow a different model without making it mundane and boring.)

0 Responses to “I meant to do that . . . .?”

  1. juushika

    I’ve been thinking about the other side lately—about the work of one novelist who writes bloody well but never seemed to capture me or stick in my mind because there was nothing there except plot. That is to say, there was nothing more to take out of it, no commentary made, nothing in the story except for the story itself.

    There are some authors and works that can be picked to death and beyond, but on some level at least the themes/allusions/”greater meaning” has to be intentional. Even if each and every aspect the reader picks out is not an intentional construct by the author, without the intent to create some sort of construct the book risks having none at all. Maybe that’s just my own brand of pretentious taste (it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been told so), but I need a book that attempts to be greater than the sum of its parts.

    But how much of that “greater” meaning or sum is intentional, that I couldn’t say. But considering the fact that I’ll gleefully hack a Shakespeare play into piece to find meaning and symbolism and allegory and wordplay, and then hack through it again to find completely different meaning and symbolism and… Well. Some of it is no doubt intentional complexity, but there’s also a lot left to accident and chance—even if it the very good odds played by a brilliant author.

  2. ombriel

    I’m in the camp where it doesn’t matter what an author’s intent is. Once a text is produced, it’s out there in the world and exists in and of itself. What’s there is there, and you can only look at what is in front of you. Put another way, the text creates discourse independent of what the author intended to say.

    Of course, that perspective is the product of my working with poststructuralist theory, which is interested in (surprise!) discourse. I was very disoriented when I taught under a Victorianist prof a year ago, and she spent much time with authors’ biographies. It’s a totally valid approach, of course–just one that posits the novel as something else than what I regard it as.

    On another note, sorry to hear about the negative reviews, but yay for the good ones from the other day.

    • Marie Brennan

      That’s why I phrased it the way I did — if the text depends on external knowledge, then it isn’t a very successful text, and certainly you can read anything you want out of it, depending on your own frame of reference. But I see no reason one can’t view the same text from multiple angles, some of which incorporate that outside knowledge, and give us insight regarding that intent. The meaning the creator wanted to put in is as interesting to me as the meaning any given reader creates out of it.

      • ombriel

        But I see no reason one can’t view the same text from multiple angles, some of which incorporate that outside knowledge, and give us insight regarding that intent.

        Definitely. Knowing that Mary Shelley had children/pregnancy/motherhood issues produces a very different understanding of Frankenstein than if you look only at the anxiety about reproduction expressed in the text.

        I guess I’m inclined to look at how a text engages with its social milieu first–how it engages with, responds to or reacts against it–and only when I’m compelled by that response do I get interested in biography/intent. At which point I tend to become really attached. Hmmm…

        But, as we said, they’re all valid approaches.

    • diatryma

      I have said that there’s what you put there, and there’s what I put there, and what is actually there is a combination of and reaction between the two. Some days, I put more outside knowledge in than others.

  3. sartorias

    Re doubling, I think sometimes when a writer has really immersed in a given period or place or paradigm, the shapes of ideas will slurp into the mix, even if some of the contemporary names for the ideas haven’t yet been encountered.

  4. meganbmoore

    That’s interesting about the doubles. I noticed it while I was reading, but given Witch and Warrior, I just assumed it was a theme you were fond of. (Which works just fine for me, as I’ve always found the concept interesting.)

  5. occultatio

    Man, you know that I don’t hold your lack-of-Lymondness against you — I just didn’t want to pull any punches with my reaction to your book. It was really completely unfair, because for the past six months I’ve hardly read anything that *wasn’t* extraordinary, in large part thanks to your recommendations, and MNC was more or less the only not-amazing thing in that mix.

    Actually, I just recently gained some perspective, after reading Nancy Kress’s Beggars in Spain — I tagged your book for not feeling Significant and all that, but you get major credit for symbolic and moral *cohesion*. I’d much, much rather read something that’s not trying to be Deep and Symbolic, that nevertheless holds itself together, than something that’s full of elements on the cusp of Significance that just isn’t sufficiently well-thought-out. MNC was a good book, it just wasn’t an AMAZING book, by my recently-heightened standards.

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