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David Hines [userpic]

quick book review: Justine Larbalestier's LIAR

April 17th, 2010 (02:23 pm)

I read Justine Larbalestier's YA novel LIAR, about which I've seen a number of people raving. I'm sure you'll be stunned to find that I didn't like it much; I found it intensely boring until a certain point, and then found it mildly interesting until I got grumpy with it again at the end. This is not because the book is terrible, but because Larbalestier has a writing style that I've seen a lot of in recent years and find deeply annoying: Evocative Monotony.

Evocative Monotony isn't about the story -- not the plot, not even so much the characters -- as much as it is about the emotional effect of the prose. The fiction I go nuts for can have evocative prose, sure, but it produces the bulk of its emotional effect at a remove, by using the characters and what's happening to evoke feeling. Evocative Monotony, on the other hand, is all about prose stylings; it's intended to induce the emotional effect in the reader directly, with less regard for what's happening on the page.

My problem with this approach isn't that it's ineffective. It's that it's unvarying. Hence the "Monotony." For me, this kind of writing induces *one* emotional effect, usually a certain level of angst, and then stays there throughout the entire course of the piece. It doesn't change. It's confining, and it's boring. LIAR made me feel a certain way, sure, and it kept me feeling that way, and it didn't make me feel any other ways.

The depth of the narrator's unreliability didn't help in this regard. I like unreliable character viewpoints, usually, but if you're going to go past a certain point of unreliability your character and your book had better be goddamn fucking *fascinating,* and they never, ever are. (My one exception to this rule: Vladimir Nabokov's PALE FIRE. Look in the mirror: are you Vladimir Nabokov? No? Then don't. The effect is even worse on film; for every RASHOMON or "Jose Chung's FROM OUTER SPACE, there's fifty piles of dogshit like HAUTE TENSION, where the technique completely ruins the material.) I prefer the stuff where the characters' unreliability gets at the reason they're unreliable (see Kevin Bacon's character's lying through his teeth in the therapy sessions in THE WOODSMAN for an example of this).

The novel's sexual content also bored me -- you're shocked by this, I know. I know there were a lot of readers who welcomed its inclusion: oh yay teenage sex! oh yay polyamorous inclinations! I confess I don't get this. (I do get the delight that queer, including genderqueer, readers have at seeing themselves represented or at least somewhat reflected.) When I was a teenager, I read intensely and avidly about sex, but I read adult books looking for it, and now that I'm an adult reading about sex bores the hell out of me most of the time, probably because if I want it I can go *have* it.

Anyway, LIAR is -- like MERLIN and SGA and a bunch of other things that set fans I know on fire -- something that totally doesn't work for me.

Originally posted on my DW. | comment count unavailable people have commented there. | Do so yourself, if you like.


Posted by: sharaith (sharaith)
Posted at: April 19th, 2010 01:24 am (UTC)

I've been looking forward to reading this book due to positive reviews of it on my flist, so it's too bad to hear you didn't like it all that much.

Of course, I rather like Merlin, so perhaps our tastes differ here too.

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