Review: Divergent

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Divergent by Veronica Roth

Once you pass the stumbling opening of this novel, which is jampacked with information about the futuristic world divided into four ‘factions,’ Divergent is a ravishing read! With a similar taste at its foundation as Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, Veronica Roth invites her readers into Beatrice’s world where the average trouble of fitting in as a teenager is multiplied by, what’s a fair number? – a million. 

Roth is ruthless in the plot and does not hesitate to sacrifice characters where the story so demands, which is refreshing to see in YA fiction. Beatrice, or Tris, is as annoying as 16-year-olds come, but you grow to sympathise and empathise with her and before you know it, that initial dislike for her reckless and immature nature has turned into cheering. I found myself rooting for her, following in her youthful misunderstandings, presumptions, and judgements. 

Besides Tris and Four, who are both compelling and intriguing, however, other characters fail to deliver. They seem to lack any depth and therefore if one of them falls into misfortune, I barely bat an eye lid. 

It’s all a little fast, moving from peace to war, but perhaps that’s due to the first person narrative, which confines perspective to Tris’s. Divergent is undoubtably a page-turner. I cannot wait to set my teeth in the sequel, Insurgent, and to see the movie rendition of Divergent (starring Kate Winslet!). Its descriptions are vivid, feeling, and alive – perfect for the movie screen.

 

Link to Divergent

Amazon UK / US

Review: Inkheart

Inkheart (2003) by German author Cornelia Funke is the first of three in the Inkworld trilogy. Its plot focuses on Meggie, a 12-year-old girl who is in love with books. Her father Mo (short for Mortimer) is a bookbinder and the two move around in the world to wherever his work is. Her mother is, in true YA fantasy fashion, out of the picture – and it’s all a big mystery (which the 12-year-old does not seem to have too much interest to solve…).

The story begins as a peculiar man, Dustfinger, appears on Mo and Meggie’s doorstep and he seems to know things, strange things, calling Mo ‘Silvertongue.’ As you might imagine, a whole new side of Mo unravels as the central problem arises: Capricorn, an evil man with a heart as black as they come, wants something desperately – something Mo has in his possession.

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

This book has some excellent characters and a neatly pleated plot to accompany them. Names such as Dustfinger, Capricorn, and Basta taste like melting chocolate to the reader and Funke has really hit the bulls-eye in baptising her fictional population. At times their characters are over-stated, explained to excess in a psychoanalytical manner, not leaving much for the reader to deduce him/herself. Some dialogue between them thus becomes clumsy with explicit statements belonging more in a 90s soap opera than a 00s fantasy novel: You’re afraid of fire, aren’t you? Because of that time Capricorn made you set that house on fire and you didn’t get away in time (not an exact quote, but you get the idea).

It is also noteworthy that even though Meggie is the main character, she seems strangely passive. Most of the time she’s merely leaning back, watching the other characters in action.

Funke offers a discussion on the practice of writing and the activity of reading which is interesting to follow both within the text and on an exterior level. The relationship between author and character, character and reader, and how stories are affected and can be affective, will appeal to readers who have read any book previously in their lives. Inkheart intertwines its literary existence with previous published works, thereby situating itself within the canon. The quotes introducing each chapter were at times long and seemingly disconnected from the story, but easily ignored so not causing too much trouble.

Overall I enjoyed this highly original novel, despite some slow moments in the plot. It’s an easy read and fitting for all ages. My greatest regret is that Funke resolves the story in this first novel – the trilogy continues but only as an extension of the future fates of the remaining characters! There is no incentive to read on unless you are besotted by Meggie and want more of her character (a passion to which I cannot make claim). Of course that’s no reason why Inkspell, the second installation, might not be worth exploring, but a little cliffhanger would have been nice nonetheless.

 

Links to Inkheart:

Amazon UK / US

Google Books

Waterstones UK

 

A Talk with Anthony Horowitz

from the purpureus Writers website

Last week I attended an event in London where the Royal Holloway purpureus Writers organised a small-scale discussion with author Anthony Horowitz.

With only about 10 participants, it was a very intimate and personal talk, where Horowitz shared his reasons for writing, view on the legacy of Sherlock Holmes and how he handled that in writing The House of Silk, and how to handle criticism (particularly pertinent for us finalists who just handed in our final creative work to be marked).

To me, Horowitz came across as only as arrogant as I think you must be to be a writer and also very genuine. He expressed repeatedly that he was only trying to be honest, and that intent definitelt came across in the talk. No fuss, just the way I like it. In my opinion, he seems to write for all the right reasons and shows a deep love for the craft in his varied and multifaceted writing endeavours. Although my only experience with his writing comes through Stormbreaker in my early teens, it was incredibly inspiring and reassuring to meet and listen to somebody who’s made it – somebody who makes a living from writing. Especially when there are enough people out there who will make sure you know how difficult it is to even get a deal with a publisher.

My favourite Horowitz comments in the talk:

1. “Nobody knows anything”

Although this fact hardly helps in having our work graded, it is worth thinking about. This comment originates from William Goldman where he refers to screenwriting, but how true isn’t it for writing in general? It’s easy to put critics, academics, and publishers on a pedestal as almighty knowers of everything and everything again. Wrong! They are people too, and art is as subjective as communications come. The authority to criticise our work at university obviously comes from the professors’ position as teachers, and it must be so for the sake of education, but in the external world this becomes more problematic.

While one reader might not care for one piece, there is another who does. How many stories haven’t we heard about literary classics which got rejected by numerous publishing houses before getting out to the public? Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, and so does quality in literary works.

2. He didn’t write off Rowling!

Having dabbled himself in the YA fiction genre with the Alex Rider series, Horowitz can hardly call the genre a commercialised sell-out in general, but I was very happy to hear him articulate Rowling as a writer worthy of the name. Meanwhile, it was not all praise and roses for Harry Potter and he said that the series got “less well written” as it went on, and that this ‘deterioration’ of quality is natural for established authors. Speaking from his own experience, he explained that when you’re unpublished, publishers tend to be severe and less enthusiastic but as soon as an author becomes widely read, then every word they write is magical. Fair criticism, and still handing Harry Potter the credit it deserves as a piece of classic fantasy literature.

Then again, he did make a distinction between “serious adult literature” and other kinds in asking us what we wrote…at which point I of course, as the only one, piped up that I did not indeed write “serious” literature, but instead YA fiction.

3. Every book has a shape

In a discussion on literary structure, with specific references to the ‘whodunnit’ criminal thriller , a genre that has come to dominate the literature and TV market, Horowitz explained his own method of structuring. Before writing, he prefers mapping out a skeletal roadmap of the novel, as it keeps him on a logical path and prevents him from straying from the important task at hand. This map is never how the final piece works out, but it gives a rough guideline at least. Yet he also stressed that each writer has their own method.

Within the same discussion, he went on to a meta-structural topic: how he views each novel and screenplay as a shape. This ‘shape’ is not the plot, nor the internal structure, but a more abstract concept of the organic life of the work. Sherlock Holmes, unsurprisingly, took the shape of a ringling maze. Another might be a road, or a circle.

If I had to offer my own view in this area, I’d say my own is a huge vegan BLT sandwich: many layers that hopefully come across as neatly and coherently ordered with plenty of tasty content. Visualising the screenplay, I only see a rain which is absorbed into nature, raise as clouds, and then recycled into rain again.

Think about it. Make it a creative exercise. What shape is your story?

***

I went away from this talk with new thoughts and a lot more determination. It was an interesting and revitalising feeling to be viewed almost as a ‘colleague’ for once. A lot of the time (especially at university) the writing environment can be rather discouraging and filled with projected inferiority.No more. For others to believe you’re a writer, you need to believe it first. Thanks to Anthony Horowitz, this objective seems more possible than ever.

N.

Chains Off – Write ON!

Not quite yet a hatched graduate, but fully developed within the egg, only awaiting that hat and diploma, free to soar the skies on young wings onto new adventures, I realise…

…I have freedom now. Not only that: freedom to write.

All those excuses of essays to finish, books to read etc are gone – the only real thing I need to do right now is find a job (even that as a leg in the overall goal to settle the last problem to writing – financial independence).

I have all the freedom in the world to write my stuff – not the stuff that my creative writing courses tell me to write (to be fair the courses are pretty liberal with content, but those few restraints/guide lines are now gone). 

So with zero physical limitations, a little apprehension, and lots of excitement I will now proceed to work on my main project, that YA fantasy trilogy, and extending my short film into a full feature screenplay, as well as continuing other writing pathways. 

Exciting times lie ahead, friends, and it’s up to us to seize every second of it. Keep the pen glowing! This is only the first chapter of a long adventure.

ps. I’m also pursuing reading as a serious activity,especially YA fantasy, so any good reading tips are welcome. Will be posting my own here as I go along the wonderful yellow brick road of the genre!