I’ve decided to occasionally write about what I’ll call ‘in-the-blood’ books: books that have had such an influence on me that I don’t think I could extract them from my writing, thought-process, or standard of excellence.
See, I have book cravings (like food cravings) where I just HAVE to re-read such-and-such a book, and I’ve been craving C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces lately. It’s one of those every-five-years books.
There are a lot of fascinating things about the book, but I’m gonna offer some quick bullet points and then a few quotes from the first chapter (I just started my re-read) and I’ll probably post about it now and again as I read back through.
-This book has the most compelling, complex, real female protagonist in any book I’ve ever read. I relate to the main character, Orual, like I relate to no other character I have ever read. Her anger, her longing, her flaws, her failures. Everything.
-The atmosphere of this book is…unique. From complete, rugged realism, to faint, unprovable hints of the supernatural, to…well, I won’t spoil it for you. Yet.
-Everything feels real, real, real.
-The themes kick you in the teeth. Those who I have asked (forced) to read this book often end up shaking their fists or being discouraged…for the EXACT SAME REASONS as the protagonist.
-There is redemption, but it isn’t pretty. It’s hard as a stone and sharp as a knife, and not quite what you think
-The way this book deals with gods, belief, history, and humanity is just brilliant.
-Character development bar-none. Characters grow, change, get over things, and change their minds in meaningful ways. Those who seemed wise and right still aren’t perfect, and time tempers both reverence, fear and hate.
So here’s the beginning.
“I am old now and have not much to fear from the anger of the gods. I have no husband nor child, nor hardly a friend through whom they can hurt me.”
So much is achieved in this first chapter. The fear of the gods, and the atmosphere and scents surrounding them, is quickly established. The smallness and simplicity of Orual’s (made-up) home kingdom is established, the setting near real Greece is made known, and the stepmother trope is upended and reexamined.
“All I saw was that she was frightened, more frightened than I–indeed terrified. It made me see my father as he must have looked to her, a moment since…his was not a brow, a mouth, a girth, a stance, or a voice to quiet a girl’s fear.”
Also, we learn (inadvertently) that the one who is telling us the story is the “ugly sister,” one of the villains of the original Cupid and Psyche myth. We know right away we are being told an old tale, but it feels ruthless in atmosphere, and we are being told it quite differently.