Tuesday, 13 September 2011

The Book of Names and Cugel's Saga

I have a bad habit of adding books to my Amazon Wish List on a less than scientific, willy nilly basis, to the extent that when I go and look at my list at Christmas, there are always several books I have no memory of whatsoever. But I must have wanted to read them once, I reason, so I leave them on and people, as people do, come along and buy me them for Christmas or my birthday.

And because it's Christmas or my birthday, these forgotten books arrive in a slew of other, more immediately appealing ones and so they usually end up dumped on top of one teetering pile of To Be Reads or another. Time passes, more books arrive and, like a layer of archaelogical sediment, the forgotten ones are pushed further and further down, untl they really are altogether forgotten.

Finally, to further muddy the (frankly a bit tenuous) analogy, I come in a bit drunk, take a bit of a stumble on the way to the bedroom and knock one pile of TBRs over, spilling the contents across the floor like fanned playing cards, ripe for discovery in the morning.

All of which havering waffle leads me to the two novels which spilled across the floor last week and which I shoved into my laptop bag for reading. One - The Book of Names by Jill Gregory and Karen Tintori - I could at least remember wanting to read. It features the Jewish Lamed Vav, the 36 Just Men of Jewish tradition who were so memorably utilised by Andre Schwartz-Bart in his astonishingly moving Holocaust novel, The Last of the Just.

Sadly, that turned out to be the only thing the two books has in common and I only got about a quarter of the way through The Book of Names before being forced to put it on the Never to Be Read pile. It's not awful and I'm sure there's an audience for books where the actual writing is secondary to the convoluted (if frequently nonsensical) plot, but any novel this close to one of Dan Brown's clueless, mish-mash novels is not for me.
The second novel, though, was the middle book in Jack Vance's Dying Earth series - Cugel's Saga.  It's what posh reviews would call a picaresque, but really it's just a mish-mash of short stories nailed together by the best - and laziest - linking concept ever: Cugel has been transported across the world by a magician for no obvious reason the exact same as he was in the first book in the series! From that majestic starting point, you'd expect things could only go downhill.  In reality, though, it remains great from beginning to end, as Cugel gts involved in one implausible scheme after another as he makes his way back home.  Little of it makes any real sense and there's a very odd bit in the middle where Vance apparently couldn't even be bothered smoothing the edges of two stories together and instead has a footnote pointing out that the next few pages occur after the first few pages of the next story, but that just adds to the ramshackle charm of the book as a whole.

I don't know if I'd want to read another book like this any time soon, but I'd read it five times over in a row rather than become bogged down in the plot of The Book of Names.  Even better, I see the cover of a Dads Army annual peeking out from underneath that spilled heap of books...

1 comment:

  1. I must re-read Cugel's Saga sometime - I've read The Eyes of the Overworld half a dozen times!

    I enjoyed A Quest for Simbilis too - Michael Shea's alternative sequel to The Eyes of the Overworld.