Books of 2015, #40-41: Stay & Always, Nicola Griffith

A consistent—and in most cases spot-on—criticism of comic books is that Nothing Ever Really Changes. Characters of any significance have too much economic value to risk alienating their audience by having them change signifcantly. More ambitious authors may make some changes, but when they move on, the narrative always seems to muddle its way back to the status quo.

Thus Wolverine, having “died” near the end of 2015 will almost certainly be back, no matter Joe Quesada’s assertions of “Dead is Dead”; in fact, by any strict interpretation he’s already back, insofar as there’s a…nah, I don’t want to get into that.

In many ways, this is the same for Lee Childs’ “Jack Reacher” novels; they jump forward and back in relationship to one another, and his circumstances may be different in some ways, but by the end of the novel, he’s generally back to the same situation he started in. He certainly hasn’t changed or grown as a character—still an amoral, violent, near super-human instrument of retribution.

One day before long I will re-read Patrick O’Brien’s “Master & Commander” series, and I wonder if I will find that they break out of this pattern of long-running series’, or not.

Aud Torvingen, on the other hand, changes.

In fact, the two sequels to The Blue Place show a character who is broken and isolated and decides to heal and engage. Not always well—sometimes with an excruciating level of obliviousness—but motivated.

As whatever-sort-of-novels-these-are, they seem to work well enough: character is injected into extraordinary events in others lives, takes action, occasionally fucks up, eventually resolves problems. The difference is that you can see how the events act on the character, not just the other way around.

It’s an interesting strategy.

Books of 2015, #31: The Blue Place, Nicola Griffith

I guess this falls in the same basic genre as Lee Child’s “Jack Reacher” novels, though I’m not 100% certain what that genre is: Crime Fiction? Thriller? Vigilantism?

Regardless, having plowed through Child’s oeuvre last year—and it being the only real example of the genre I’ve read—I cannot help but make comparisons between Aud Torvingen and Jack Reacher.

Both have that air of almost-super-human competence coupled with extraordinary physical conditioning and a capacity to absorb punishment. Both have a companionable attitude toward violence. Both are situated so that there are few long-lasting consequences to their actions; Reacher by being rootless and drifting, Torvingen by being independently wealthy.

The difference, I would say, is that as would seem to befit a male character in this category, Reacher is effectively amoral. He is less a character than a force of nature. He does what he does, with little consideration for other human beings, positive or negative—if he aids someone it is because it pleases him, not because of any particular notion of right or wrong.

Torvingen, on the other hand, gets involved. Things become personal. Is it a cliche that a woman would become attached? Perhaps—I guess it will depend on how it ramifies out through the two following novels whether it ends up seeming necessary.

The prose is generally well done, but it is a first-person narrative, and there are very few authors who can pull off such a thing without annoying me at some point or other—and Griffith isn’t one of those, at least not in this book. If absolutely nothing else the sex in the novel—whether necessary or not—reads just as eye-rollingly overdone as any Reacher novel: it is, almost by definition, somewhere the narrator inevitably ends up telling rather than showing. I don’t know what’s going on in your head when you’re having sex, but I hope for your sake it’s not narrative.

I guess, in the end, it was good enough that I’ll stick around for the next two, to see where it goes, but if I were a less compulsive reader, I might just say this was enough.