Sorry for the pause in posting! I had meant to get up to date this weekend but instead I was struck down with a deadly illness and forced to spend hours in bed feeling sorry for myself. We will have a Chatz on Gone Girl for you soon but in the meantime lets look at the last two matchups, The Song of Achilles vs Beautiful Ruins and Bring Up the Bodies vs HHhH.
Fay: Unlike Judge Horwitz I am a BCE gal. I’ve had a thing for Trojan stories since I was a teenager and I was pretty excited to read The Song of Achilles after it won the Orange Prize. So I liked it because I’m a sucker for the subject but I didn’t think it was amazing. I completely agree with pretty much all Judge Horwitz’s comments; I too found the pseudo-ancient dialogue and soft porn sex scenes awkward, I too though the battle scenes were much better drawn!
As for Beautiful Ruins, I didn’t love it either but it was the much better written book. At first I found all the strands of the story interesting but more and more I was drawn to Pascale and his lonely hotel as he was caught up in the glamourous film scene. I did not care a heap for any of the other characters, especially ‘female place filler’ movie lover who’s name I honestly can’t even remember. The only other part that was as enthralling was the movie pitch for ‘The Donner Party!’ (exclamation intentional) which was dark, moody and evocative. Overall Beautiful Ruins was definitely well written and definitely had different tones for different characters and time periods which should be but is not always a given with braided narratives. Also Jess Walter is a silver fox.
Steven: Eh, this book was lame. Not for Steven. I did not care for the characters – and not in an ‘I didn’t like them’ way (that doesn’t matter to me) just that they were largely either boring (Dee, as Fay mentioned, Pat, who was the worst) or generic (Michael Deane). Nor did I care for the plot! Italy? Love? Hollywood’s golden age? White people looking for redemption and stuff? Bah, humbug. I basically just wish that Walter would have written a completely different book altogether. I don’t mean that to be as much as an insult as it sounds like! Just that he clearly has a way with words, and was capable of writing some beautiful sentences, but everything around them just did not interest me in the slightest. The book didn’t do anything new, and while it largely did nothing new WELL (except whenever Pat was in it) it certainly didn’t do nothing new excitingly. And that’s a confusing sentence but your three readers are smart enough to work it out.
And onto the next matchup which was really unfair. I mean I guess putting anything up against Bring Up the Bodies is kind of unfair but why couldn’t it have knocked out something bad?? Because I loved HHhH. How do you tell a story of the plucky rebels against the evil oppressor when the setting is the Holocaust? How do you choose who rates a mention and who does not? How do you approach sucha fraught subject? How does a historical novel really work? How much do the facts matter in a novel? These are the questions that Laurent Binet is trying to answer and what comes across is the humanity and the bravery of those involved and the incomprehensibility of the evil they were up against. I disagree with Judge Hitt’s criticisms: Binet’s commentary is what makes this book special because we, as his readers, should share his concerns about the nature of reading, writing and remembering. But then Bring Up the Bodies is Bring Up the Bodies. It’s in a class of its own.
Steven: Bring Up the Bodies deserved to win and it deserves to just as easily crush everything else in the Tournament. The only book that could give it the slightest competition as far as I’m concerned was knocked out last week in favour of a book for tiny children so I have to say (as you can probably tell by my tone since that day) that I don’t really care about this Tournament any more I used to love you the Tournament of Books! ANYWAY. HHhH was one of the better books this tournament! It takes a LOT for me to read a WWII/holocaust book and even more for me to like it, so that’s saying something. And while it needed to go down when faced with the unstoppable power of Bodies I’m sad to see it go so soon (and it’s defs not coming back as a zombie). HHhH is a charming little curio (charming being a word that applies to much World War II/Holocaust literature) and my praises and criticisms of it were the reverse of the judge Jack Hitt and commentator Kevin Guillefoile. The former writes that “in the guts of this story is a breathtaking thriller and we never get to be simply seized by the details of it” while the latter says that “while I was reading HHhH, what I wanted to be reading was a rollicking good novel about the same subject”. Not me bitches! I was much happier with this book than I would be with a rollicking thriller (though there’s nothing necessarily wrong with those guys). In fact the more straightforward parts of the book, particularly towards the end, were for me the least interesting, and I loved Binet’s (or ‘Binet’s’) interjections and commentary on historical fiction. When the narrative took over and the Binet largely just commented on the enormity of the event, the cruelty of the Nazi’s or the heroism of Gabčik and Kubiš the book lost some of its momentum for me, despite the events described. The rest of the book though had very interesting things to say, and I found Binet’s (or ‘Binet’s’) comments fascinating and enlightening, making me think more about the relation between history and fiction. Also I could read a whole book of him criticising The Kindly Ones, and I haven’t even read that book! So in short, right choice, but shame about HHhH being out so soon.
So onto the last or the opening round tonight! This is my most anticipated match up because it brings yet another over-hyped monster up against one of my favourite books of last year. Trends this year suggest Arcadia will get smooshed by the more popular opposition but c’mon Judge Max! Make the right call!