Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link
|Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A collection of fantasy shorts that show how far the genre goes - then doesn't go there.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 392||Date: July 2010|
|Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd|
It goes without saying, but the greatest thing about fantasy fiction is that one can go anywhere with it, and do anything. So a young man can easily try and dig his girlfriend up and retrieve some poetry he romantically left with her - only to have a hairy evening as a result. There can be a psychic link between a young lad, called Onion and doomed to die in a terrorist attack, and his cousin while she works as slave in an odd community of wizards. Several worlds can be accessed through an elderly woman's handbag, for better or worse.
But while a book with such intriguing riches as these is more than welcome, the end result here is a little lacking, and not fully satisfactory. You can make more of a young romantic being tormented by a girl from the 'wrong grave' than is done here. Onion's cousin's world is not weird enough, as odd as it might be to say. There's a great set-up, of a TV programme with no rules, no real regular cast, no credits or standard scheduling - but we see it through the eyes of people in a similar-sounding TV programme, and we don't go anywhere near to the extreme we might like.
It's easy to see from this book that Kelly Link is a trendy author. She's collected a host of top names for her blurb, been anthologised by McSweeney's, and more. But I didn't fall in love, or dread, or fall over laughing, at any of the contents. There's a modern narrative approach, leaning towards a slightly arch, distanced and removed commentary, and not the standard sort of omniscient narrator, to several of these pieces, in keeping with the sort of modern fairy tale trope. But it didn't allow for any real effect - no jokes of note outside a couple in the title story, and certainly no chilling delivery.
We hit upon first person narrative now and again, mostly with a talky style, so Ms Link can do character, and she has the inventiveness to show us unusual things - most successfully, after a false start or two, a world where people carry foot-high ghosts around on pieces of ribbon. Across the collection of tales we hit upon modern America, and a teenage prank going wrong, and many distant, bizarre lands.
But I will contest and contest again these tales don't work for me, because they are too elusive, too quick to shrug away from fantasy norms. I see the title story has won major prizes already - you'll read most of it wondering why it's a genre piece, then scoff at the silly ending. What makes it a fantasy story is it has a tinge of the werewolf to it. What makes it a Kelly Link piece is she barely tries to indulge us with the werewolves, unless she really has to.
Even less satisfying was the attempt at sci-fi, featuring a future world of multiple epidemics, alien-awaiting cults, and football. It was just another instance of this book passing me by, and wondering why and wherefore all the praise from all-comers. This might be the playful approach to fantasy you seek, but for me it didn't play by the rules, and I was left nonplussed, and a little disappointed.
I must still thank Canongate for sending us a review copy.
We enjoyed straighter fantasy by other ladies - The Folding Knife by K J Parker, or The Lord of the Changing Winds (Griffin Mage) by Rachel Neumeier, for instance.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link at Amazon.com.
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