Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A review of one in two and two in one

One in two
There are many, many good reasons to travel in a car across Siberia. Love. Money. Communism. Crime. Finding the best watermelon seller this side of Omsk. But travelling in a car across Siberia in order solely to write a New Yorker article about travelling in a car across Siberia is not one of them - and certainly not when that New Yorker article is so boringly gargantuan that it stretches out over two magazines. This is what writer Ian Frazier has done, and in the process he has demonstrated how utterly pointless the theme of his article is: because instead of enjoying the writing about Siberia, you end up just thinking about what the hell the writer is doing in Siberia.

Quite aside from anything else, if you are going to write an article about travelling in a car across Siberia, then there's no need to actually go travelling. A much easier method for writing the article is readily at hand: by lying. You'd produce an article better than this one, too.

I put my New Yorker magazine down at the end of this article, not wanting more, but wanting less. Is it possible to unread an article?

Two in one
Some enterprising publisher has been re-releasing old Eva Ibbotson titles in a series of 'two-in-one' books. Ibbotson has written enough small books, and enough good books, to really pull this concept off.

Have I rhapsodised about Ibbotson before? I will now. Here are a few two word phrases that describe her writing: brilliantly plotted, wonderfully witty, heartwarming satire, hell crazy good. That last phrase was three words, not two: that's how good she is.

At the moment I'm reading a two-in-one combination of 'Not Just a Witch' and 'Dial a Ghost'. I'm halfway through the second, having zipped my way through the first on a Sunday afternoon.

Ibbotson has a delicious turn of phrase, with the ability to make you bark with laughter by saying just one or two words. (I love how she describes one old man 'sitting pinkly in his bath'.) And what better way to establish the moral wickedness and nastiness of characters than by saying this:

Because Fulton wasn't kind at all; he was evil, and so was his sister Frieda. The school that they ran was called Sunnydell, but no place could have been less sunny.

I want to read more. So I'm going to do it now. While sitting pinkly in my bath.


Maria said...

I like Eva Ibbotson. I know some people now are all into certain types of and really start going on about novels that have things like moral ambiguity, subplots, deal with current moral and political themes, 'dark' characters or humour, symbolism and representation of this and that blah blah and they will dissect certain books and then say they are better than others because they have these elements. I read an Eva Ibbotson novel once and I didn't really think about much of that, but it was an excellent read - delicious turn of phrase, lovely ideas and well-drawn characters and just a fine read. Really, that's what I'm mainly there for. I got carried away and tried to read every one in the library and got mad when someone else had borrowed out the one I had been planning to read HOW DARE THEY HAVE THE TASTE I HAVE AND DEPRIVE ME???

They were generally short reads but goodies!

I'm going to go stand in a shower. Hopefully not too bluely, but the hot water here has been temperamental so I'm taking a risk as to colouring.

TimT said...

Ah yes, now I remember I recommended 'Which Witch' to you. I *have* raved about her before!

Actually, 'Dial a Witch' is quite dark in some respects, probably one of the most complicated Ibbotson books I've read so far... but the nice thing is the main plot is so simple and enjoyable that when the darker ideas come in, you don't notice them at first.

There's probably a writerly lesson in there about strong plots, good characters, and simple descriptive writing being the foundation stones for something or other...

Maria said...

I think there is a good foundation lesson about good writing being the foundation for good writing ...

My wv is trited.

How very trited a comment i have made indeed.

P.S. Thank you for the Ibbotson recommendations!

daddy dave said...

I have to admit... travel articles bore the f--k out of me.
It was a genre that worked, once upon a time, when travelling was (a) more expensive (b) more time consuming (c) much less frequently engaged in, and (d) when you didn't have travel infrastructure to help you at every step of the way.
Back then, travel stories were intrinsically interesting because the writer and reader understood that this was a kind of edgy pursuit. That didn't have to be said.
A train ride across Siberia is not edgy in 2009. not even slightly. The "Race around the world" contestants had to take that exact same train trip on last week's episode.

TimT said...

The race around the worlders are still racing? I thought they'd been canned ages ago. Who knew.

P J O'Rourke took a train journey across Siberia over a decade ago and wrote about it. He at least had the (lack of) good grace to say that it bored the hell out of him!

Like any literary genre I guess it can be done well. There are obvious attractions - new scenes, different languages, opportunities for writing about both natural and urban settings etc.

This particular NY article was by and large a boring 'by-the-numbers' approach.

Email: timhtrain - at -

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