Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Book Review: Light by M. John Harrison

Light Light by M. John Harrison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Good: M. John Harrison's descriptions are so evocative, so immediate, they thrust me headlong into the scene. The pacing continually picked up as I read the novel, by the end I found myself hitting the next page button on my kindle before I finished the last line or two on the page. Pacing was relentless. The ending was a knockout, and brought revelations that astounded me. Wow.

The Bad: If I hadn't read this for my book club (Other Worlds Book Group, in Lake Oswego, Oregon), I probably would have put it down and never finished it. It's an ensemble book, and of all the point of view characters, I found it a slog to read all but one: Seria Mau Genlicher. A serious anti-hero, she grabbed my attention from the start. The others made my eyes blur, and wonder why I wasn't doing something productive, like playing World of Warcraft. Thank god for Harrison's stunning descriptions, that's all I had to hang on to. About a fifth of the way through the book, the slog stopped and real enjoyment took over. Rebeca, from my book group, didn't get to that point until midway through the book.

The Ugly: What could be more boring than sex or serial killing? In this book, not much. An alien race that looks like Irish junkies who masturbate every 20 minutes sounds like a set-up for some edgier version of Douglas Addams, but in Light it's just more evidence of how dreary everything is. We get a serial killer who claims he's driven to kill, but really seems unconnected.
Do women exist who don't greet men with an offer/demand of instant sex? It's hard to find them in this book, and given how distant, gray, and emotionless almost all the sex is depicted as, you have to wonder why they bother.

And Yet: I ended up loving this book. The ensemble starts to work, often by the introduction of minor characters, like Anna, who bring focus and insight into characters who failed to grab me at the start.
The structure of the book is a real strength, with jumps from the present day to 400 years in the future, that tie together seemlessly.
The cloud of despair lifts as the pace throttles up to full tilt, and by the end the book is awash in a gonzo intensity.

If you start this book and find yourself wavering, keep going. If you're going to go into Light, go deep.

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