The Society of S, Susan Hubbard

One time a few years ago, I had strep throat, and my parents were out of town so instead of going to the real doctor, I went to the Student Health Center on my campus.  They didn’t want to see me, but when they said they couldn’t see me because I wasn’t enrolled for the next semester (I was going to England), I started to cry, and I cried and I cried and I cried and they agreed to see me after all.  And – perhaps in revenge – they gave me an antibiotic that gave me shocking mood swings.  I cried every time somebody said “no” or “not”.  It was weird.  Like “Don’t worry about it” would make me sob helplessly.  And then eventually I went to the real doctor, and they gave me a new antibiotic, and this one made food taste bad.  No matter what I ate, it was nasty.  Except edamame, which isn’t very nourishing if that’s all you’re eating; and I lost like fifteen pounds in a week.

I only bring this up because I haven’t liked any of the new books I’ve read lately.  And I’m beginning to wonder whether I have some kind of sickness of the brain that makes it impossible for me to enjoy books.  I haven’t yet found the book equivalent of edamame.  I don’t know what to do.

The Society of S is all about a thirteen-year-old called Ariella who lives alone with her father, and she gradually discovers that she’s a vampire.   Her friend dies, and she figures out what she is, and she goes to find her mother, and then her mother and father meet up again, and they talk about feelings.

The blah parade continues.  The book was a quick read, but even so the action dragged.  Everything interesting seemed to happen offscreen, and the writing was so, so, so self-conscious, always making excuses for itself.  The characters weren’t fully fleshed out, so they weren’t interesting and their relationships weren’t and nothing was.  Even when things that had been mysterious (sort of) got revealed, they were boring.

Blah.  Blah.  Blah.  None of my books are any fun anymore.  Maybe I will never read a good book again.  Maybe books are mad at me!  Maybe it’s because I’ve been watching Doctor Who so much lately, and I’ve made books angry by raving on and on about Doctor Who to everyone!  And books got jealous!  And now books are having their revenge!  What if Martin Millar releases his sequel to Lonely Werewolf Girl soon, and, and, and I’ve become such a soulless TV-watching slug that I won’t be able to enjoy it?  What if Eloise Jarvis McGraw wrote a book that was much like Greensleeves only better, and it’s in a set of papers that are meant to be released in a few years, and when that happens, I DO NOT EVEN CARE?

…I’m typing this while watching the first Doctor Who episode ever to contain Cybermen.  I wonder if that makes this complaint less than sincere?

City of Bones, Cassandra Clare; or, I apparently think Oscar Wilde had the werewolf gene

Recommended by: Darla at Books and other thoughts

Many spoilers to follow, but you can probably guess them while you’re reading anyway.

City of Bones is all about a girl called Clary who witnesses a most unpleasant murder and gets drawn into the wild and wacky world of demon-slaying.  Turns out her mother used to be a demon-slaying badass chick, but left that life to pursue normalcy as a single mum.  Clary has a steamy crush on one of the demon-hunters, Jace, and they have banter and sexual tension; there’s a wicked guy called Valentine (it was hardcore with the three-syllable names in this book, incidentally: Jocelyn, Clarissa, Jonathan Christopher, Isabelle, Valentine, Lucian.  Damn.  Apparently in the world of demon-slaying you must have a three-syllable name or be doomed to blandness.) who wants to murder children and rid the world of even the niceish half-demon hybrids like werewolves and vampires; and the quiet, sensitive (two-syllable name) guy is gay.

I don’t know if this was the most predictable book of all time, or if I was seriously clever while reading it.  I think it was a fairly predictable book and I was a teeny bit clever while reading it.  Because I guessed every single plot point in this whole entire book.  And with a sense of dismay and resignation at the inevitability of it all.  It was like this one time I was taking a practice GRE English Subject test for fun (don’t judge), and there was a section where you had to say what book each passage came from, right?  I looked down at one passage and saw the word “swain”, and I immediately felt very resigned and thought, “Oh, Lycidas.”  I don’t know why (though I was quite right) I should have known this, particularly from the word swain, since I read Lycidas once two years ago and thought it was tiresome.

Well, City of Bones was much like that.  Like when nobody said anything about Jace’s real name?  I was all, Oh, he’s her brother.  J.C.  Cute, and could not one bit support their romance because I was too busy being squiffed out by how dismayed they were going to feel upon discovering they were siblings.  And when Hodge told her about his curse, being confined to the Institute?  I knew straight away he was a vile betrayer.  And when I got to the bit at the end where it’s revealed that Valentine is Jace’s and Clary’s father, I sort of thought, Well, yeah, we’ve known that all along.  But then I glanced back through the book and realized that no, we hadn’t.

Never mind all that.  Here is the strange bit.  Clary has a substitute father-figure called Luke, and she’s eavesdropping on a conversation Luke’s having with the bad guys, and they call him Lucian.  I immediately thought, Oh, okay, he’s a werewolf then.  Which, you know, as a deductive process – that doesn’t make any sense.  They’d hardly mentioned werewolves at all up to that point, there hadn’t been any clever hints about the full moon, yet indeed it proved that he was a werewolf.  I did a mental census in my head of Lucians I can think of, and here are the results:

Lucian the Greek satirist.  I don’t know anything about him except he did satire and was from Assyria or Akkadia or something else with an A.  I never took Greek, so if he wrote about werewolves, I don’t know about it.

Lucien the librarian from The Sandman.  Nothing there.  Man doesn’t look a bit like a wolf.

Lucian Holland, son of Merlin Holland, son of Vyvyan (yes, really – that’s what happens when Oscar Wilde gets to name you; the other kid was named Cyril) Holland, younger son of Oscar Wilde.  This one seems the most likely for associations, to be honest, since I forgot the librarian’s name was Lucien until I was buying books online yesterday evening, and since I have never read the Greek satirist.  Evidently my brain believes that Oscar Wilde’s great-grandson is a werewolf.  Who knew?

City of Bones wasn’t terrible.  It wasn’t well-written, and the story wasn’t very original, but it was interesting enough for me to either get the next two out of the library any time I happen to see them there, or to read their Wikipedia entries to find out what happens.  Possibly both.  And it was funny in bits, but not that funny.  So oh well.

As a sidenote, I was enchanted when Clary made reference to a button she had that said Still Not King – I remember those!  Turns out it’s the same woman – she wrote the Very Secret Diaries and now City of Bones.  Thinking about the Very Secret Diaries snaps me right back to high school, when all those movies were just coming out, and how tim found that thing about Legolas Greenleaf, he da man, and made it into a haiku:

When you ask “Who da
man?” I say wit’ conviction,
“Legolas da man.”

And how we all went to see Fellowship in a massive group and my friend cried and cried and cried and cried after Boromir’s death, and I felt concerned that her wracking sobs were preventing her from enjoying the touching Frodo-Sam scene, so I whispered a number of consoling things about what a jerk Boromir was anyway and how we would assuredly see him in flashbacks, before she managed to convey to me through her tears that she was weeping hysterically for joy at Frodo and Sam’s beautiful friendship.  And how Nezabeth and I watched this one bit of the Fellowship extras DVD every time we felt depressed about our Logic homework, this one bit where Viggo Mortensen told a story about his boat and the body double for Frodo.

Mm.  Nostalgia.

Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen

Heard about this because it was one of those books that is always on front shelves at Bongs & Noodles.

I know it is contradictory to say that I enjoyed this and then file it as an unfavorite, but it’s true. I enjoyed it in that I carried on reading it all the way to the end, so I guess something about it must have been interesting and absorbingish. Basically, the story is narrated by an old man who is slipping in and out of the present into his past, when he worked as a circus vet in the Depression. (I don’t like the Depression. I know that everybody didn’t like the Depression, but I just want to go on record as disliking it.) There is an elephant and an crabby midget and a pretty girl and some crazy people. I love circuses (in theory – I have never actually been to one). I really wanted to like this book. I really really did. I’m not just saying that.

It’s just – I didn’t give a shit what happened to anyone. The guy’s two best friends get killed by the crazy circus people, and I just didn’t care at all. I didn’t care if the elephant got killed; I didn’t care if the chick stayed with her crazy-ass husband or ran off with the narrator; I didn’t care about anything that happened to anyone, ever. And you know, that isn’t really the mark of a great novel.

The concept was interesting, a Depression-era train circus and its wild and wacky adventures, but it wasn’t worked out at all well. The transitions between the bits with the old guy in the nursing home and the bits of his past that he remembers are really, really not smooth (mostly), which has led me to believe I can (and will!) do better with such a frame. There was a very unfortunate combination in this bookydook of excitable prose and unbelievable relationships (I don’t know if that’s the right adjective, but my point is that there was nothing the least bit realistic or moving about these relationships), which gave the novel a feeling of fantasy rather than history. In a way that might be a good thing, but because it was a historical novel, it made the history bits sound made-up, and everyone worked together in a painful congruence to make this book seem childish and very unfinished. Which is a shame, because I think there is a fascinating book in there somewhere, and I have no doubt that the truth about Depression-era circuses is most riveting.

Pooh.