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The Violent Century Paperback
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I get it --- there are other ways to tell a story than your basic linear, past-tense method. But it really seems like the author is consciously trying to break every rule of storytelling in a misguided effort to be edgy. Present tense, short and choppy sentences, occasionally breaking the fourth wall to address the reader, a non-linear narrative, characters speaking with dashes rather than quotation marks --- in the hands of a more skilled author this exhausting combination might work, but here it just comes off as a jumbled mess. The choppy sentences are awkward, the characterization doesn't have a chance to get very deep, and there are too many instances of confusion regarding what's part of a character's speech and what isn't. There are also grammatically incorrect sentences that would only make sense if their commas were semi-colons, and long run-on sentences with far too many commas.
With that said, the style eventually grows a little on you --- or you get used to it enough to stop hating it, anyway, and about a third of the way into the book the story actually becomes pretty good. Is it the literary version of Watchmen? Nah. Watchmen was already literature. But it's still an interesting take on a World War II populated by superheroes. One that's filled with difficult moral questions, fun cameos by historical figures, and a few twists along the way. A thoughtful counterpoint to all of the superhero popcorn-fare filling our movie theaters these days, anyway.
Also criminally underrated here (hope that hasn't affected sales) where the complaints are about an early pricing decision to price the ebook at comparable rates to a hardcover.
I really like Sommertag (Summer's Day), a young girl with a very unusual and compelling super-power who is crucial to the theme of the book. Her power is unlike any other that I have seen in superhero comics. She is in direct contrast with the second lead of the book, the Dorian-Grey-like Oblivion. This is only one of many ways that the book has been constructed with care, using motifs and thematics to build to a unified literary effect. If the early style were not so pretentious, perhaps readers would warm to the very solid technique. I'm glad I waited it out, because I was satisfied at the end.
I appreciate the way superheroes of different countries have different approaches (the Americans showy and bombastic, the Brits covert and gloomy, etc). Some of the use of historical context, while admirable in attempt, gets less development than I would like. Parallels to Adolf Eichmann's trial, and to Operation Paperclip, are some of the more satisfying ones.
Since writing the text below I have upped the book to four stars. I'm about halfway through. Tidhar dials down the obnoxious style after a while and slides into a more manageable narrative, and his story is very compelling. The book jumps around a lot in time, but everything is clearly labeled and it is not confusing. Fogg, the protagonist, despite having super-powers, is an everyman type in a lot of ways, and a decent person to travel through the story with. More later when I finish.
I've only just started reading and may give it more stars by the time I've finished. But I have to say about the style -- yes, it's very irritating. Tidhar seems to be going for a mosaic feel by presenting lots of images. In a way, it's a language version of comic art, but I'm not reading a comic in this case. He writes lots of sentence fragments, breaking up the ideas into very choppy miniature bits and pieces.
The sentences. Short. Many of them. The character turns. Eyes glinting. Like moonlight. The other character is there. He frowns. Turns this way. Turns that way. The beer glass, slick, foaming. Now it's time for a long sentence just to prove it can be done. Good. It's done. Continuing, the sun on the daisies. Lots of sun. Shiny sun.
I will probably get used to this style, because I definitely want to read a novel about British superheroes. But it will take me a while to get to where it doesn't annoy me.
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