Thursday, 17 July 2014

A Madness of Angels

This isn't really a book review, but if it is, it's a review of A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin. With that in mind, let me start by recommending the book, very highly, to anyone who likes reading... well, words, really. The words in this book are excellent, beautifully chosen, and the story they tell is pretty good too (I'm not sure about the ending, but I'm starting to wonder if I'm actually just generally ending-averse).

The book is a 'modern fairytale' sort of affair, something I'm very interested in but so far always disappointed by. Mark Chadbourn's 'Age of Misrule' was brilliant for about the first two chapters, then traded all its modernity for hippy hagiography. Even Neverwhere, a delightful story, felt backward-looking and nostalgic (though it has the excuse of being almost twenty years old).

A Madness of Angels has the advantage (you would think) of only being five years old. Well, probably six or so; its publication date of 2009 means it was probably written no later than 2008. It's set around that time, too - no earlier than 2005, and probably more like 2007-8ish. That makes it younger than Facebook, probably younger than Twitter, contemporary with the first iPhones.

I said this wasn't really a book review. What I'm actually getting at is how fast the world is changing. Madness felt (to me, specifically looking for a 'modern fairytale') hopelessly out of date. This is a book published after I became an adult, and not just in the legal okay-we'll-let-you-drive-now sense; by the time Madness came out in paperback, I'd started my flippin' PhD.

I don't remember a character in the novel sending an email (it's kind of implicit that emails are being sent in the world, but they don't appear on the page). Half-way through, the main character buys his first ever mobile phone - granted, he's been out of circulation for a couple of years, and prior to that lived quite a rootless life, but I was a relative latecomer to mobile phones and got my first when I was about fifteen (2002 or so). The internet as a whole barely figures in the story.

All of which is terrifying to me, as a modern writer trying to write (not always directly) about modern life. My first finished novel, which I wrote in late 2010, does feature tweets, emails and smartphones, but a lot of it takes place on blogs and online message-boards and yet there's no mention at all of Tumblr. By the time I get back to it to give it the heavy rework that any writer's first novel needs, there may not be much point.

The advantage of writing fantasy that cuts further away from reality (like The Second Realm, which I like to think has some pretty modern themes in it) is a level of insulation from this problem, but it does also put up a barrier to really engaging with new developments as people in my audience experience them.

I do, genuinely, recommend A Madness of Angels, but I'm not sure it lives up to its cover quote ("'Neverwhere' for the digital age"). But then, given the time it takes to write, edit, polish and publish any novel, I'm not sure that anything could ever live up to that billing.

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