Annabel’s Shelves: C

This post was republished into my blog’s original timeline from my lost post archive.

We’re up to the letter ‘C’ on my Annabel’s Shelves Project – and it was a case of if at first you don’t succeed, try again….

C is NOT for: Italo Calvino – DNF

Oh dear, I tried and tried to like If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler by Italo Calvino, but I fear it is not a book for me. So, sorry to Karen and Dark Puss who both championed this book.

It has a wonderfully inventive structure – being a novel of alternating strands. In the first framing narrative, written in the second person, the reader is trying to read a book called If on a winter’s night …. Then, in the second half of each chapter we get the book he is reading, except that it appears to have been mis-bound and consists of a set of different first chapters, which of course, I think, will turn out to be linked.  I say ‘I think’ because I gave up at about page 69, although I did flick through to the end skimming the conclusion and I realise that I’ve mostly missed a love story between the narrator and Ludmilla, who also buys the defective book.

My problems with reading the book were two-fold. Firstly, I didn’t engage with the smug narrator – who spends half the book telling you how to read. Secondly, I didn’t really engage with the stories because I had one of those moments reading the first one where a particular sentence irked me – and I obsessed over whether it was the original or the translation (William Weaver, 1981) that was annoying me (I still don’t know which). The sentence that got me was:

In the odor of the station there is a passing whiff of station café odor.

It was the repetition of ‘odor’ that got me (that and the American spelling probably!) It just felt lazy to use the same word twice.

On the next page he then goes on to use it many more times:

…with the odor of train that lingers even after all the trains have left, the special odor of stations after the last train has left. The lights of the station and the sentences you are reading seem to have the job of dissolving more than of inidicating the things that surface from a veil of darkness and fog. I have landed in this station tonight for the first time in my life, entering and leaving this bar, moving from the odor or the platform to the odor of wet sawdust in the toilets, all mixed in a single odor which is that of waiting, the odor of telephone booths when all you can do is reclaim your tokens because the number called has shown no signs of life.

Maybe it was deliberate the first time too, but by then it was too late for me, I’d been sensitised. Instead it just all felt totally smug, and thus all the parody about books, reading, writing and style, plus the metafictional aspects which I’d been looking forward to fell flat.

So, if I try Calvino again, I’ll go for The Complete Cosmicomics, stories about the evolution of the universe – but I might leave it a while!

Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below (affiliate link):
If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller (Vintage Classics) trans William Weaver. Paperback, 272 pages.
The Complete Cosmicomics (Penguin Translated Texts) trans Martin McLaughlin. Paperback, 432 pages.


C IS for: Soulless by Gail Carriger

Well after the disappointment of my first try of Calvino, I had another go at filling the first ‘C’ slot in my Annabel’s Shelves project. And I was delighted to find an author that kept me so entertained – I romped through this book, the first in Gail Carriger‘s ‘Parasol Protectorate’ series, and will look forward to reading the others in due course.

The lazy way to describe this book would be to compare it with others – a Victorian steampunk Sookie Stackhouse, or, The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters with added vampires and werewolves. This novel has all of the above – a Victorian setting, vampires and werewolves, it’s really funny and sexy too, but it was the promise of steampunk themes that really lured me in. For those less familiar with steampunk – it is a SF trope that introduces technology into a 19th century setting, but typically steam-powered; although only coined as a sub-genre itself in the 1980s, it owes its roots to H.G.Wells and Jules Verne.

Miss Alexia Tarabotti is on the shelf at 25. She inherited her Mediterranean looks from her father, an Italian, dead, and her mother only pays attention to her two younger and paler half-sisters. She also has no soul. What’s a girl to do?

As the novel starts Alexia is having about to have a snack in an ante-room at a ball when she is attacked by a vampire. This vampire is obviously new, and a ‘rove’ (not part of a hive) and doesn’t know the etiquette. Alexia accidentally kills him with her wooden stake hairpin. The Queen sends the head of the BUR, Bureau of Unnatural Registry, Lord Maccon to investigate. Maccon is a real hunk, rich too, and a werewolf. There is a sexual tension between the two each time they meet – which will be lots over the course of the novel.

It turns out that vampires and werewolves are disappearing all over the place, and new unaffiliated ones appearing. It also appears that whoever is behind all of this has found out Alexia’s secret – that she has no soul. Reputedly, she can negate paranormal powers by touching someone – and they’re out to get her! Maccon assigns her guards around the clock; she confides in her best friend Lord Akeldama – a really gay and old Rococo dandy of a vampire.

Lord Akeldama never drank anything but champagne. Well, that is to say, except when he was drinking blood. He was reputed to have once said that the best drink in existence was a blending of the two, a mix her referred to fondly as a Pink Slurp.

Alexia gets summoned to a meeting by the queen of the Westminster vampire hive – she is desperate to find out what’s going on in her parish. Maccon, hearing of other disappearances around the Home Counties, sends his second in command, Professor Lyall to investigate.  Meanwhile, Alexia meets a possible marriage prospect – an American scientist, Mr MacDougall, who is researching ways to measure souls. Alexia keeps her own status a secret.

We have the set up of the will they-won’t they romance between Alexia and Maccon (no prizes for guessing the result) amidst the adventure of solving the mystery of the disappearing/appearing vamps and lupes plus mad scientists. Once the initial setting up is done, the novel gallops pell-mell to its conclusion.

My only quibble was that we don’t find out how Alexia became soulless – we are just presented with it and its effects.  I hope we find out more in subsequent outings. The presentation of Britain as a progressive, forward-thinking country for accepting paranormal personages into society (provided they are registered) as opposed to America where they are not accepted at all was interesting. Queen Victoria is behind it, so I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that Prince Albert is a vampire or something. This novel was great fun!  (8/10)

Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK via affiliate link, please click below:
Soulless: Book 1 of The Parasol Protectorateby Gail Carriger, 2009. Orbit paperback, 299 pages.

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