Not in the target audience

In our randomly recurring series of “Not in the target audience“, yours truly was today in the receiving end of a thirty-page free pamphlet offering advertisement-excerpts of three novels by three different authors, recently translated to Finnish. All three were written by women and seemed to have female protagonists, though I can’t say if they were aimed at a similarly female target audience; but they all irritated me, some more, some less.

(For the record: Kamila Shamsie’s Burnt Shadows, Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry, and Muriel Barbery’s L’élégance du hérisson / The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Links are to Amazon but this post has been written before looking at those, at least partly because I’m liable to go all Exorcist-Regan if subjected to the predictable amount of overemotional deepity-full adjectivefulness.)

Part of my irritation is that I am a rube. Namely, I know and acknowledge that judging the skill in and the worth of novels is more than a question of what does or does not rub one the wrong or right way. I also think there are expert people, some of whom are not totally full of shit, who can do and do that kind of judging. I’m not one of those people, and can’t usually stand them; I’m just a prick with a blog who occasionally stumbles into the world beyond sf/f, horror, crime, weird and non-fiction — and usually hisses and then swiftly backpedals, because I deal in seeds, not flowers.

Here’s the problem of mine: I grew up with Asimov, who was so direct as to have almost no style; I can appreciate the beauty of a well-chosen phrase, because I’ve read Lovecraft; but I like my words doing work, not tumbling in a kaleidoscope. My tolerance threshold for verbal fluff is way low. So do I find these books repulsive because they are told in an unfamiliar way and are more flowery than what I’m used to? Or do I shy away because I’ve never read much of them and don’t know their unfamiliar designs really do hold together, and consequently grumble against an entirely misplaced target? I hope I don’t, because that’s not the sort of prejudice I can justify. (Feck, this is going to eventually drive me into reading one of those three. There’s no end to running around in circles if you don’t add evidence you can yourself evaluate.)

Do I dislike those books because I don’t find their word-association games interesting and prefer logic and concrete narratives instead? If so, fine, unless I’m missing something bigger.

Or do I dislike them because I perceive in them a willingness to be seen as all profound, deep, epic, poetic, oh-so-quirky and so on, and failing to be anything except a glut of polysyllabics, deepities and jumbled images? If so, I’m a-okay if I’m right, and an utter prick if I am wrong. (Usually I just stay away from reading and from commenting about this kind; no Coelho for me, thank you very much. I haven’t read any of his, but I’ve been led to suspect the sort of deepity emotionalism of the liberal religious which I dislike just as much as I dislike the thundering moralist Jack Chick posturing of the conservative faithheads. Ah, the tragedy of the atheist seeking fitting moral contemplations outside science fiction.)

This line of thought eventually leads to “Well, there are positive reviews aren’t there”, which leads to “Every single book published has positive reviews! And the more obscure and impenetrate something is, the likelier is it has people fooled into thinking it’s profound! God is love, god is the god behind god, most times incoherence is as good as profundity to some people!” which leads to wishing I was a drinker. Which leads to listening to Iron Maiden until I feel better.

(The second novel — the Niffenegger one — seemed very interesting in its premise, having a woman that’s dead and now a ghost, and starting to probe the limits of that condition, with the customary paperclip gymnastics and all, but I have the creeping suspicion her interests (possibly “closure to life, deep emotional insights, a living dead love story, wan and wistful reflections on vague spiritual tangents”) would differ a lot from my interests, namely: “are the any more ghosts? if so, do all people becomes ghosts? if not, what are the criteria? is there some conscious agency behind it? what is that agency, what does it do, and why, and where does it come from? is it a ‘god’ as any known religion understands their god to be? if so, which one, and how are heaven and hell related to this, and why the villain presumes to assume it has the right to play with people’s lives so? is it to be commended, co-operated with, resisted, or overthrown? if there is no agency and ghosthood is a ‘natural’ phenomenon, how does it work, what are ghosts exactly, and what natural laws apply to them? are there ghost civilizations, and if so, why have they never contacted the living seeing as our ghost anyway can influence paperclips? can ghosts, assuming there are more, talk to each other? or do they just fade away before any organization can rise? and no matter the answers to these, how to communicate this all to the living and why anyone hasn’t done so yet? and — well, this question came up in the excerpt, but not as anything igniting any further curiosity — can a ghost die?” Not that the story couldn’t be good even when focusing on the emotional stuff instead, but it would niggle to have my curiosity unfed when a prop of such fascinating nature is introduced.)

To balance that bit of possible interest, I note the Barbery novel was apparently about an insufferably smug woman, a doorkeeper in a Parisian apartment house for the rich, who keeps up the charade of a boorish and incurious common-people lifestyle while enjoying the finer pleasures of art and philosophy in secret. This is an accurate description of the excerpt’s content except for the word “smug”, which is my own impression.

Hard to think anything else when the passage seems to read “Ha ha ha, I am so intelligent and secretive, and everyone else is stupid and stereotyped and incapable of stomaching anything different, so I shall leave the TV on so they will think I am watching the Bold and the Beautiful, but no, really I am in the back room reading philosophy. Smugly. Because I’m a smug loner so much better than the others, but I won’t ever tell them, because they’re too stupid to allow that. They are all stupid; I am not. So I will just read here and cry… smugly.”

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