Reading The Etched City

13:48 Sun 17 Dec 2006. Updated: 14:00 10 Jan 2007
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I picked up K. J. Bishop’s debut novel in Stacey’s the other day, based on an employee recommendation, and started reading it on the flight. So far I’ve been very impressed, and the writing has made me sit up and take notice.

The first passage to do so was this one:

She tried the pump, which yielded brown water. She cupped some in her hands and splashed it on her head and neck. A muddy residue stayed in the lines on her palms. She wasn’t going to try drinking it, but in case the camel was thirsty she filled the bucket and walked back around the site of the building. The camel drank a few mouthfuls, then gave the bucket a disdainful kick, spilling the water, which the dry ground rapidly swallowed.
—K. J. Bishop, The Etched City, p7

I’m not sure exaclty why (this question raises its ugly head again), but I think that’s really well done. So it manages to hold my interest stylistically, which I think is unusual enough. The characters are compelling, but I’m not sure about plot right now, and I’m a little concerned that it might go all Gene Wolfe on me.

Another passage that caught my attention, and made me decide to write this entry:

Gwynn believed that either there were no excuses for any act, or the fact that of being human was a fully satisfactory explanation for all human behaviour, in the same way that the fact of a crocodile being a crocodile provided all necessary justification for that beast’s habits. He could see no viable middle ground. Nor could he see how [his friend] Marriott would ever regain happiness while he continued to court suffering. He himself had never been tempted to play the tragic part, but he’d known enough people who chose to, and had become addicted to it, to recognise the symptoms, of which a painful vulnerability of the soul was one.
—K. J. Bishop, The Etched City, p108

That last sentence is a little convoluted, certainly, and might need a little work… but the passage still a powerful and succinct insight into the both characters and into human nature in general, packing quite a punch in a single paragraph.

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