A Trifle Dead: a conversation
My mum and I don’t share books all that often. Not for any good reasons, but just… because. She is still game to buy books for me, all of which I read and enjoy, even if (like Amazons of Black Sparta) it sometimes takes me a while. She has promised me that when she can get her hands on it she will read China Mieville’s The City and the City; when that happens I may re-read and do another of these conversational reviews.
You need to get with my reading program. I read C and the C many books ago – and loved it!
… MA!! You need to tell me these things!!
ANYWAY. A Trifle Dead is the first book I’ve bought for her in a looong time, and I was really hoping it would up her alley…
And it was. Can’t beat the crime and food combo.
I’ve been looking forward to A Trifle Dead for a long time now, and except for about four chapters – which I read one evening and then had to exercise a great deal of will-power to put down – I read it in one sitting. It’s a classic crime novel in that way, because it just kept on sucking me on.
My limited exposure to crime fiction means I think of them being set either in picturesque country towns or big cities. And I’m sorry Tasmania, but Hobart is no New York. I don’t know Hobart, but I still got a sense that the book is set in the real town – and PLACE is a really important part of the whole story, given that proximity matters a lot. I’m almost tempted to take a copy of the book with me to Hobart sometime and try to match up bits of the plot. That could be a bit freaky though.
I’m right into setting and atmosphere at the moment (writing an essay on its place in Henry James’ Turn of the Screw) and as I HAVE been to Hobart I was very impressed with its realism as regards setting. Not so sure I came across anyone who was nearly as interesting as these characters though.
Day has made Hobart seem waaaay more interesting than most mainlanders would assume. I think my favourite bit is the Botanical Gardens description – and if she made up those bits, I’m going to be very cross.
My recollection is that the gardens are very lovely but it’s been a long time since I was there. Salamanca Place is fantastic if my memory serves me correctly.
I’m still tossing up whether I most enjoyed the characters or the plot. I think the characters might be winning. Tabitha is an unlikely detective, no matter how much she like gossiping and prying and despite (really because of) being the child of a policeman. This aspect – her ambivalence towards the police force because of her father is totally believabe, as is her attitude towards her parents’ divorce and career changes. Mum, are you running away to a hippy commune any time soon?
I think I like my home comforts too much to do that.
And hippies don’t play golf.
That hadn’t occurred to me, but is probably true as would be too busy tie dying or growing stuff. Nothing like a good bit of generalisation!
It’s a really strong part of the whole novel, actually: complicated families and unconventional characters in general written with honesty and love and just a dash of slapstick. Many of the characters fit very broadly into general categories, but they also keep slipping out of them, refusing to be buttonholed. The female friends? Well, one keeps judging Tabitha with her eyebrows, and another hasn’t spoken to her for years and could break her with a little finger. The love interests? One is on the dark and brooding end but that’s because he’s a cop, and he’s more exasperated and brooding; the other is Scottish. And the housemate, Ceege, absolutely refuses buttonholing and I LOVE HIM A LOT I WANT MORE CEEGE. Because, fashion from an eng student will never cease being hysterical. Also I’m now inspired to have my own Oscars party.
I found all the characters highly entertaining and wish I knew a few people like them. Only in books, I fear. Ceege is definitely a winner. If you hold an Oscars party you’ll have to frock up pretty early in the morning.
I know a lot of Engineering students, but I don’t think any of them could get away with the clothes Ceege does. If I had an Oscars party I would do the same thing as Tabitha – ignore Twitter and the news, and have it in the evening!
The plot would, I think, meet the requirements of the crime lover – do you agree Mum? It’s got a slow unravelling of clues, and tantalising hints of what’s going on and who might be involved and then POW something completely unexpected happens. Because I definitely did not suspect the true culprit.
It’s a good plot. I found the book a really entertaining read which met the requirements of a crime novel lover like me and gave me a welcome break from Dickens, James and Woolfe!
Um yes. Which is good because otherwise your brain might EXPLODE.
Also I liked the food.
And if nothing else, the book does convey two essential truths: it’s all about food. And never try to outdrink engineering students.
You can get A Trifle Dead over at Twelfth Planet Press. Buy one for your mum, or your grandad, or your neighbour while you’re there.
Alanna: the first adventure
I was given this book by a student teacher placed with me some time ago, a major Margo Lanagan and Isobelle Carmody fan who was scandalised that I hadn’t read any Tamora Pierce. And I finally got around to reading it, hurrah! (She also gave me a pencilcase that she made herself and decorated with important history dates – how cool is that?? – and a copy of A Woman in Berlin which I haven’t read yet but I WILL, I SWEAR.)
So, I should say upfront that I don’t think I loved this book as much as M wanted me to, and I think that is entirely the fault of my age and cynicism. Oh, I fully intend to get my hands on the rest of the series at some stage because I do want to find out what Pierce does with Alanna, especially once her secret is out… but it’s unlikely to be a Great Classic in my heart.
That said… some spoilers follow, because I want to dissect a couple of bits.
So, that said… I liked Alanna, although the 30-cough-something in me is intensely amused and eye-roll-y at a ten year old having the nous to set up such a trick on her father. It’s interesting that Pierce made the father neither evil nor dead (the dead bit is left to Mum) but so intensely disinterested and absent that this trick could work; I would have thought this would have a rather larger impact on the child than it appears to. Anyway; it’s set up as ‘special child with special talents’ right from the start, so that’s not something I can complain about. And I DO genuinely like Alanna. Much as I deplore the violence I admire the pluckiness of wanting to beat your own enemies; I like that she speaks in a forthright manner, and her determination to be as good as the boys – and that she fully intends to reveal her secret when she’s passed her tests and go on to have adventures. I really, really liked that Pierce addressed the issue of menstruation and Alanna’s annoyance at having biology forced on her (also, the bit where she realises her chest is jiggling? Priceless). I am sad that she has the “but I’m not good enough because I’m a giiirrrlll!” tantrum, but I do like that it’s the male companion who tells her not to be so ridiculous.
I forgot to mention the premise of the story. Alanna wants to be a knight. Her twin brother doesn’t; he wants to be a sorcerer. Conveniently, boys are taught magic at the convent to which Alanna is to be sent to learn How To Be A Lady; and Thom, the brother, can forge Dad’s handwriting. So, switch-a-roo and Alan(na) is off to the big city to learn how to cudgel opponents… I mean how to be a knight. Essentially this is a boarding school story but rather than being nerds or wizards or international students, this is Knight School. There’s all the sorts of things you would expect – fitting in, working hard, dealing with bullies, annoying/scary/awesome teachers – with added swords.
There are some nicely subversive elements here, against the traditional Learning to be a Knight story, especially in the form of Sir Myles. (It must be said I was a little afeared that Myles was going to end up having a sexual attraction to young Alan, when he suddenly asked Alanna to accompany him to his home castle. Lucky it was only inspired by a dream! Haha!) The undercutting of chivalry, and the seeming contradiction of what is expected of a knight – honour vs beating opponents up, etc, isn’t fully fleshed out and may simply pass a young reader by – but I appreciated it. Especially in contrast to the “yeh, beat up the bully! That’s the solution!” rhetoric, which kinda revolted me.
Things that made me very eye-roll-y: Alanna is so fed up and tired after two days that she decides to leave (but of course changes her mind…) and THEN, a few months later, has enough time to go out and do EXTRA training with George so she can beat up the bully? Really? So she magically found time for travel AND for the lessons?
Also: George. I’m as much a fan of your King of the Thieves as the next person who read David Eddings as an impressionable teen, but… a king in their late teens? Named George? With such a highly developed sense of morality? I don’t buy it.
Also also: “the Gift.” The reality of this magical ability just wasn’t developed enough early on – either what it is or why Alanna hates it so much – for me to be particularly impressed when she pulls out the stunt of making Jonathan recover. I am intrigued by the fact it appears, at least in this use of it, to call directly on the gods – gods who don’t appear to have much impact on everyday life, as far as I can see, in terms of worship or morality.
Things that concern me: I worry that Alanna and Jonathan will end up having a Thing. That will annoy me. Or Alanna and George. So the prince and the king of thieves will end up fighting for her hand. That would be BAD.
All of this aside, I really will look up at least the next book, to see where Pierce takes Alanna. My version of this first book has the opening chapter of the second, as a teaser, and… yeh, I am intrigued.