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Author Recommendation: Nicola Griffith

Posted by Cyn | Posted in Reading | Posted on 05-01-2008

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AmmoniteI read Griffith’s first nov­el, Ammonite, short­ly after it came out. It was, for many years, the best first nov­el I’d ever read. I also read one of the Bend­ing the Land­scape antholo­gies she edit­ed with Stephen Pagel, and it was good, too, but not earth­shak­ing. Slow Riv­er was well-writ­ten, but for some rea­son it just didn’t toast my bread. I knew that Grif­fith had writ­ten a mys­tery or two, but didn’t hur­ry to find them.

Slow RiverI should have.

I read The Blue Place a few days ago. I fin­ished it the same day I start­ed it, because I couldn’t do any­thing else. I don’t know why it hit me so hard, as it isn’t real­ly the sort of thing I usu­al­ly like. It’s def­i­nite­ly clas­sic noir, and I pre­fer my mys­ter­ies on the cozy side. The hero­ine, Aud Torvin­gen, pings me as being too much like the per­son my crazy ex-girl­friend pre­tends to be.1

The Blue PlaceFor­tu­nate­ly, Aud doesn’t have Teh Crazy. She’s not a com­fort­able per­son, and I still don’t entire­ly like her. She’s extreme­ly real, though, and I’ve been right there with her through­out these books.

Griffith’s prose is tight, but packed with details that let you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel her world. When Aud runs her hands along the grain of a plank of wood, you know the tree. You’re inside Torvingen’s head, and it isn’t a com­fort­able place for any­one. She’s very much at home with her body, and Grif­fith allowed me to remem­ber how glo­ri­ous it is to move, to work hard, to dance, in a body that does what it should. I’m thank­ful for that.

StayThe Blue Place was a gut punch. I didn’t expect the end­ing. I didn’t like the end­ing. With most authors, I would have tossed any­thing else she wrote into the give­away box and gone on. In fact, I was going to return the oth­er two books in the series to the library, unread.

So what do I do? Picked up Stay this morn­ing, because I couldn’t help it. I need­ed to know where Aud went from where Grif­fith had left her. And I’ll prob­a­bly read Always after that, although I may have to recov­er for a few days again. I don’t know if I’ll write any­thing about those two, specif­i­cal­ly, but this is prob­a­bly enough bab­bling for most peo­ple.

AlwaysI just real­ized why I’ve nev­er re-read Slow Riv­er, or rec­om­mend­ed it. It does deal with child­hood sex­u­al abuse2, which I try to avoid in fic­tion. That wasn’t the real prob­lem, though. Betray­al is such a major theme in the book that I felt as if I had nowhere to stand. I iden­ti­fied too strong­ly with the main char­ac­ter, and I read it at a time when I real­ly didn’t have a firm foun­da­tion. I could prob­a­bly read it again now, with my nice­ly safe and set­tled life, but I don’t know that I will.

I under­stand that Grif­fith has an anthol­o­gy of her own short sto­ries com­ing out some­time soon. I look for­ward to it, and whether Stay and Always give me warm fuzzies or not, I plan to read it. I can’t rec­om­mend her work strong­ly enough if you’re look­ing for sol­id writ­ing, pierc­ing descrip­tions, and hon­est char­ac­ter­i­za­tions.


1 Now that I’m read­ing the sequel, that feel­ing is even stronger. I seri­ous­ly think she may have read these and cho­sen Torvin­gen as a role mod­el.

2 I don’t recall any explic­it abuse scenes. All the char­ac­ters are adults at the time of the events in the nov­el. There is explic­it sex, though, in the con­text of a dys­func­tion­al (abu­sive, by my stan­dards) rela­tion­ship.

Comments (3)

I’m sor­ry if Aud is in any way to blame for your ex’s behav­iour. There again, you’d have to be crazy to pick her a role mod­el in the first place (shud­der).

But I’m delight­ed that you got hooked by Aud. I hope you do read Stay and Always. There’s no betray­al and they’re quite hope­ful books.

If you’re inter­est­ed in what I’m work­ing on now – an his­tor­i­cal nov­el that you may find more like Ammonite in tone than any of my oth­er books – vis­it my brand new blog, Gemæcca, which is ‘the sto­ry of writ­ing a nov­el about Hild of Whit­by’.

I just freaked my part­ner and daugh­ter out because I got loud­ly fan­girl­ish over your com­ment 🙂

Aud isn’t to blame for the crazy, I’m sure. Last I knew, she fan­cied her­self as Eka­te­ri­na from Lois McMas­ter Bujold’s Miles Vorkosi­gan series. That’s a real stretch, believe me!

I still feel odd about say­ing that Aud isn’t crazy. I meant more that she wasn’t like that per­son. She’s not exact­ly bal­anced, is she? I was very inter­est­ed to run across the men­tion of “bor­der­line” in Stay. Aud is incred­i­bly sta­ble for some­one with BPD, as they usu­al­ly have no set sense of self, lead­ing them to rein­vent them­selves peri­od­i­cal­ly in major ways. They usu­al­ly have a string of dra­mat­ic, bro­ken rela­tion­ships and often major shifts in career, reli­gious beliefs, and even appar­ent sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion. Aud seems very solid­ly Aud, so that I com­plete­ly under­stand Tammy’s descrip­tion of her as “con­crete.”

I asso­ciate the traits men­tioned in the nov­el (oth­er peo­ple aren’t real, hav­ing to delib­er­ate­ly mim­ic “nor­mal” behav­ior) with sociopaths more than bor­der­lines.

I fin­ished Stay today and did find it far more pos­i­tive. Aud’s growth is inspir­ing and believ­able. I’ll def­i­nite­ly be mov­ing on to Always short­ly. And I’ll def­i­nite­ly look for­ward to Gemæcca! You’ve already got­ten me read­ing about Hild and the Syn­od of Whit­by.

Thank you!

Well, cool. Hap­py to make you *squeee* .

My lit­tle sis­ter was diag­nosed with BPD. Noth­ing like Aud, I agree.

I think the Hild nov­el is going to be the best thing I’ve done. There again, I always think that…