Monday, October 11, 2010

A Novel: Boys of Blood and Bone

The contrasting treatment of the two protagonists, Henry and Andy, in Boys of Blood and Bone made me aware, again, how writerly writing can add depth and meaning to a character’s point of view.

A great title. The plot is awkward to say the least. My problems reading it began with Henry. He comes across as such a lightweight. What he thinks and does seemed unnecessarily weak. Anything would contrast with Andy’s theatre of war and blood and guts and mud and cold. Trot, a secondary character in the modern arena, is much more his own man.

Henry, driving through the countryside breaks down and must seek help at the nearest little town. Trot gives him a lift in and introduces Henry to Janine, Trot’s girlfriend, and Miss Cecelia, Andy’s fiancĂ©e all those years ago.

Henry is drawn into a mystery about Andy. Janine encourages him to read Andy’s diary and he seems to agree out of mere politeness. Andy’s diary is non committal to the point of being uninformative. As a carrying device into Andy’s story, the modern day part of the plot doesn’t really work for me. Jean Ringland, in her family memoir, A Ghost at the Wedding, manages the intervention of war much more naturally.

The sections written from Andy’s POV glow with layers of meaning. He thinks it himself at one stage, ‘his mind layered it over like a pearl.’ Probably boys in the first decade of the twenty first century cannot be seen as layering things in their minds like pearls. However, what Andy experiences and how he experiences were what kept me reading. Andy on board the ship taking him to Europe, ‘watched waves march on by, each armored with a steely sheen.’ (p58). His whole life is enriched like that, with extended metaphor and simile. Writerly.

Henry and his friends, talking about their surf, compare it consciously, in speech, to freight trains and haystacks. (p84). Though Henry gets a bit of the poetry here and there, ‘the swells lifting him [were] like broad black road humps’ most often his perceptions are empty of colour eg ‘the waves beyond were amazing’.

It seems to me Andy’s character is built up using a sensual writerly style of writing. Henry, being brought to much shallower life, with much less drama perhaps, is the poor cousin as a result. Because his feelings and perceptions are impoverished, we reading his story, are much less ready to identify with him.

I found the two styles in one book idea interesting because I’ve been writing a novel using a similar strategy, writing the main chanracter's parts in a ‘fantasy’ style; and using a ‘modern’ slangy prose for the supporting character's stories, in an attempt to help readers differentiate the groups.

I see now that there’s a danger that one tribe gets more of the goods. So that’s another thing to look out for come the structural edit!

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