Author Recommendation: Nicola Griffith

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.

3 Replies to “Author Recommendation: Nicola Griffith”

  1. 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’.

  2. 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!

  3. 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…

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