Friday, 25 June 2010

A blip, nothing more

I think treating YA lit as medicine for what ails me has generally been the right choice - The Graveyard Book was really enjoyable and Howl's Moving Castle, my current read, is proving to be as well. My interim choice, however, was a big fat fail.

I read David Almond's Skellig about a year and a half ago and loved it in spite of its obvious attempts at emotional manipulation; I was thus fairly certain that another of Almond's books could be counted among the reliable. Wrong. Wrong. I was willing to forgive the terrible title - Heaven Eyes - and the cringe-worthy cover but I shouldn't have - both reflect the damp and spongy schlock between the covers.

I like the idea of the book - three orphans run away from their orphanage together (well, float away, on a homemade raft. Note to David Almond: if George Eliot can't make that work, no one can) and end up finding an abandoned warehouse with a girl (like them, at some stage in her teens) named Heaven Eyes and Grandpa, her guardian. Grandpa is senile and crazily protective of Heaven Eyes, and Heaven Eyes has webbed feet and hands, is strangely innocent, and perhaps not to be considered among the intellectually gifted. Alright, this doesn't sound like a good idea at all. I take it back; my bad. But like I said, Skellig was really good. You blind-sided me with your shit, Almond! Damn your eyes!

Really, the problem was not the idea of this book but rather the execution. For one thing, in Heaven Eyes, we don't meet characters, we meet clichés. The three main characters - Erin, January, and Mouse - are your basic orphan stock types, alternately angry and just aching to be loved with no nuances in between or beyond. Especially clichéd was the orphanage director, who was a broken-hearted (because childless) woman named Maureen who couldn't decide if she wanted to either destroy or save her wards. Yawn.

But Heaven Eyes. Lord, why don't you smite your enemies to good writing? Your ways are mysterious. Heaven Eyes, fish girl, is supposed to be the epitome of sweet innocence; like I said, she also seems to be developmentally challenged. That would all be good and well if Almond had anything, anything, in his rhetorical arsenal to make this clear besides the god-damned verb "to giggle". Heaven Eyes says sweet and innocent things in messed up syntax and diction (which is entirely inexplicable as she was raised by an adult who appears to have had a full working life amongst other normal humans), and she 95% of the time follows them up by giggling. Really, Almond, really? That fatuous, un-mellifluous, over-used word was the only one you could think to (over-)use to make it clear that Heaven Eyes is a bit slow but super, super nice?

I don't think it's unreasonable to demand that professional authors possess and display a hold on the language that is superior to your average grade 11 student's. I don't care what anyone says, but a story isn't - can't - be a really phenomenal story if the writing is either only merely adequate or downright offensive. Luckily, there are people like Neil Gaiman and Diana Wynne Jones to save our childers (and myself) from completely drowning in a sea of semi-literate and undeservedly* self-indulgent shit.

*Some authors, I believe, are sufficiently talented to be entirely forgiven for extreme self-indulgence, e.g., Orhan Pamuk.

5 comments:

heidenkind said...

Do you think kids have more or less patience with self-indulgent shit than adults do?

Colleen said...

Good question. I'm guessing more. Not because they're not "critical readers" because I think they are, just with different priorities than their adult counterparts. I think they're more patient because they're nicer. Generally.

Sarah said...

An adaptation of Skellig was shown on British tv several years ago. I didn't make it to the end of the program, and was left with a strong urge to give all things Almond a wide berth in future. Sounds like the makers of televisual Skellig tapped into Almond's potential, so to speak.

Good point regarding George Eliot! And though my kiddies don't do Diana Wynne Jones, I've had a fairly good stab at making up for it.

Trapunto said...

I am filled with the uncharitable hope that you will read more books you dislike so I can read your reviews.

And none of the alternatives are much better are they? Snigger, snicker, chuckle, titter.

I figgered the weird syntax was because she was magic n' aw. Being magic is really bad for the brain, poor girl.

Colleen said...

Sarah: Well, thank your British tv stars that they enabled you to avoid Heaven Eyes! It only gets worse in my memory as time passes.

Trapunto: Thank yer. My reviews of books I dislike intensely sometimes inspire spleen that exceeds my own for the books in question. Thanks for your approbation of my bitterness!