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 our crazy ex-housemate pretends to be.1Now 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.

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 abuse2I 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., 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.

Cyn is Rick's wife, Katie's Mom, and Esther & Oliver's Mémé. She's also a professional geek, avid reader, fledgling coder, enthusiastic gamer (TTRPGs), occasional singer, and devoted stitcher.
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3 thoughts on “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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