When postmodern heroines like Laurie Penny and Sarah Waters refer to fantasy and science fiction as genres that profoundly influenced them, I feel abashed. I have never really given either a proper go. I confess – I haven’t read The Hobbit, any Harry Potters or even the dust cover of a Terry Pratchett novel. I had a brief flutter with Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Quest, but it was postpartum and no one can be held responsible for their actions within 3 months of delivering a child.
So as part of my own voyage to becoming-a-better-person, I bought a penguin edition of Obernewtyn, a fantasty/ science-fiction postapocalyptic novel by Isobelle Carmody. You’re in safe hands with a penguin, surely.
But it was not the case. I can’t pin-point what irritated me about this book more: the clunky writing, the convoluted plot, the phonetically incorrect northern English/ Scottish accents or the characters whom all appeared to have the same name.
The first page introduces the ‘Great White’ and the ‘Age of Chaos’. Then we learn about Herder Factions, Misfits, Seditioners, Councilfarms and white stick. Quite quickly we read about Oldtimes, Beforetimers and various other times, telepathic cats and a machine called Zebkrahn. Of course, there is a map at the front which strangely, isn’t relevant to most of the plot.
There is just so much going on this book. Too much, in the end:
‘I don’t know how they intend to use the powers of whomever they find. But obviously this Zebkrahn machine is part of it’, Dameon said.
‘We have to get her away,’ Mathew said.
I told them about meeting Daffyd then about recognising his uncle. I said I thought they might be mixed up with the Druid who also appeared to be searching for Oldtime Weapons.
Just to be clear, I don’t know what’s going on either. I still don’t know who Daffyd or the Druid are.
A sample of unrelenting and unsubtle text that pelts the reader, (ironically) leaving nothing to the imagination:
…Lying in the sweet-scented hay, the tears fell and I did not try to stop them. They flowed steadily, splashing my wrist, and running down my throat. Their warm wetness made me feel like I was bleeding to death.
‘Sharna’, I wept bitterly, ‘why is life so full of pain and hurting. There seems no end to it. When are the moment of happiness to come?’
[She’s talking to a dog at that point].
So all in, not a book I’d recommend.
Notwithstanding this, I’m willing to give fantasy/ science fiction one last shot. But before I do, I shall begin searching for answers to some fundamental questions. Am I so far in my dotage and too wedded to the Brontes to permit myself an excursion into this unchartered territory? Shall I be forever thwarted in my quest to be a better person? Is it because I don’t belong to a guild or is because I’m not an orphan? Or, perhaps more closely approaching the truth, is it a matter of finding the right dragon to tame my cynicism?