Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Reading Experience

This is going to be more of a description of my reading experience with Greer Gilman’s Moonwise. The basic story is simple, but experiencing the text is utterly magical. This is why fantasy is my chosen genre. Reading it transports you, the prose effects a wonder that strikes at my heart. And this book did that so well that I am going to talk more about that than anything else. If you want a book review go find one at Amazon. If you want to find out what it’s like to read Greer Gilman, read on.

Moonwise is Greer Gilman’s first book, originally published in 1991. It won the Crawford award in 1992, and was nominated for the Tiptree and Mythopoeic awards. It was released in hardcover by Prime books in 2005 and reissued by Wildside books in 2006.

I know she wrote this book over the course of 10 years on a typewriter with no outline, and no plan for it. For this, the work was well edited (though I did find a few line errors). I know going back through this much text and making sure everything is in the right place is difficult to say the least, and the business-savvy side of me screams of inefficiency, but I only have the most respect for a mind that can successfully wrangle with that.

I’d heard so many great things about Gilman, and I’d seen her participate in various panels at Readercon and Boskone. She is a brilliant folklorist and wildly creative woman. But after hearing her read, or more accurately perform (from another of her stories), I just had to read her books. But it was hard to find through my normal channels (used). So I was thrilled when I found it at Readercon last July and was able to have it signed.

So, with great anticipation I finally picked it up, appropriately, in September (the story takes place in fall and winter). But it’s December now. Yes, it took me a long time to read. The prose was just as dense and challenging as the literature I studied in college. I took my time with it, savoring the lines, references and double meanings like I savored those of Dickens. Even though I read it cover to cover and followed the arc of the story, I can’t help but think I’ve missed a lot of...something in the writing.

Suffice it to say, I wasn’t instantly in love with the book. It had a slow, kind of boring start with a few dead ends and little hope of clews. And I didn’t expect the story to be what Farah Mendlesohn describes in her book, Rhetorics of Fantasy, as a “portal quest” story, in which the characters go through a portal from the normal world to another. Moonwise started in contemporary times with two girls, Sylvie and Ariane, who see the same world I see.

I prefer my fantasy untouched by the modern world. I usually don’t like contemporary fantasy stories as much because the main characters are my filter to the world, and I’d rather see it through the eyes of a native than someone like me.

Yet, I can hardly say Sylvie and Ariane are like me. Although they are denizens of the 20th century, if I met one of them in person, I might describe them as otherworldly. They were a promise of what was to come: enchantment, folkloric references and skillful world creation. These things charmed me and kept me examining page after page.

After the story got going, Gilman always keeps the suspense and tension up. One way she did this was by making the world never comfortable. I’d pity the characters and wonder at their survival. They were always freezing and wet and sleeping on rocks, or even when they found a welcoming home, it was bad news and holding out the suspense and dread of what is to come.

I’ve finished this story once, but I know I’ll come back to it and go find her other books. With its wonder, it has wakened sleepy and tired spots in my brain that I had forgotten, it has opened up new parts of my brain, and it has filled them with possibilities--nature abhors a vacuum.


This blog entry is cross posted at Wandering Around the Words.