I’m reading “The Dovekeepers” by Alice Hoffman right now, and I can only read a little bit of it at a time. It’s a historical novel set in 70-74 C.E. in Judea at the time of the destruction of the second temple (Solomon’s) and the capture of the fortress of Masada by the Romans. The whole novel is based on the information given by the historian Josephus that two women survived the mass suicide of the defenders of Masada by hiding inside a cistern along with five children. The novel concerns who these two Judean women and five children were and how they came to be at Masada. It’s a gripping story told from the women’s viewpoint, which makes it apocalyptic in tone, and it’s a positively grueling read. I can only read so much at a time, and then I have to “chase” it with some “comfort reading” that is light, funny, and full of feel-goods.
I’ve notice in the last couple of years that I have had to just quit reading books by several of my favorite authors because they are so hard on their protagonists. Ye gods! Elizabeth Bear is one who comes to mind. Her stuff is deep, compelling and transformative, with well-rounded engaging characters and page-turning, thrilling plots and I’ve really liked the books of hers I’ve read, but she is just brutal to her protagonists. Even some of the lighter stuff, like her novella “Bone and Jewel Creatures” has a fairly hard edge. (That’s one of the reasons I’ve held off reading the Outlander books by Diana Gabaldon. There are places in those books I don’t really want to go just now.)
Seanan McGuire is another author I’ve had to stop reading because she is so hard on her protagonists. I love her October Daye books (13+ a new one in September), but she puts poor Toby through the wringer in one way or another every durn book. McGuire is strong on world building, with fully-fleshed, three dimensional characters, though, and if you like the Fae, urban fantasy, mere- and were- creatures, and don’t mind protagonists who get beat up both emotionally and physically, truly dysfunctional families, and plots that are real nail-biters, there is much to like in this series. Tybalt, for example.
Generally speaking, I love Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan books, except the ones Miles Vorkosigan features largely in, because of the way that poor guy invariably takes a beating. Even the first book, “Shards of Honor” that tells of the meeting of Cordelia Naismith and Aral Vorkosigan (Miles’ parents) is pretty much all uphill. They also tend to have that kind of “Cold War” police-state-noir atmosphere, though, especially the ones that take place on Barrayar because it is a very militaristic, oppressive type society. Her Penric’s Demon books are much kinder to their protagonist, Penric and his demon Desdemona (what a great name for a demoness!). They are witty, and fun as well as thought provoking. Her Chalion books are good if you’re into a medieval-Spain-but-with-magic kind of thing. All of Bujold’s books feature great world-building, good plots, and three dimensional relatable characters.
I get the “hero/heroine’s journey” thing. I get the “coming of age” thing. I do. But real life is pretty grim right now. Society is going through a massive upheaval at the moment and the end is not yet in sight. (My situation is pretty OK. I have a roof over my head, food on the table, and a safe place to sleep, and I consider myself ahead of the game there.) I’ve been through the wringer healthwise in the last couple of years. I’ve experienced a significant personal loss, and another one is coming. Though one of my major health issues is under control at the moment, that could and probably will change. I have enough grim, serious, dark stuff going on in my real life. Why would I want to read about it?
So what am I reading now?
Gail Carriger (and her alter ego G. L. Carriger) is an author I’ve come to love for her light, witty “steampunk-lite” novels — set in an England during the reign of Queen Victoria where vampires are the trend-setters of fashion, and a ball without at least one werewolve in attendance is not worth going to. Earlier in the century, we have the Finishing School books (4), whose heroine attends a lady’s finishing school which is located on a dirigible and which has a rather unusual curriculum. (There are spin-off novellas which focus on several of her fellow students.) Moving forward in time there are the Parasol Protectorate books (5), which tell the story of how one young lady became the wife of the alpha werewolf of the London pack and the thrilling adventures that befall her and her friends. (Again, there are spin-off novellas about several of the secondary characters.) These are followed by the Custard Protocol books (4) which tell the story of the daughter of the protagonist in the Parasol Protectorate books, the dirigible her vampire god father gives her and the thrilling adventures she has traveling in it.
Ms. Carriger is a firm believer in Happily Ever After (HEA) endings, which is one of the reasons I like her books. Now, one caveat: The realities in Ms. Carriger’s books have LGBTQ characters, just like our own reality does. She doesn’t beat you over the head with them, but they are an integral, accepted part of the world in which these three series of books are set. So, if that aspect of real life makes you uncomfortable, her books might not be your ideal getaway destination.
That brings us to the books Ms. Carriger writes as G. L. Carriger. If you are not comfortable with LGBTQ themes and characters, and frank portrayal of all aspects of that lifestyle, then the San Andreas Shifter books (3 so far) are not for you. But if you’re cool with that sort of thing, and don’t mind people shifting to other animals besides wolves, as well as kitsune, kelpies, Mages, and mere-people thrown in for good measure, you are in for a treat. Like her other books, Ms. Carriger’s San Andreas Shifter books are about found families, people finding people who accept them for who they are and who love and appreciate them for their good qualities. An additional caviate: These books are a bit “x-rated ” in places, but who wants a G-rated Happily Ever After? Not me. The third book in the series has just dropped, and I’m planning to snuggle in to my knitting nook, find some peaceful music on my internet radio, plug in the Kindle Fire on the little reader’s table where I usually put my knitting patterns, notions, etc., and have a Self-Care Sunday tomorrow, to reread the whole series in chronological order, with the new book as the cherry on the top.
For the English majors in the crowd, there are Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next books (7) — a delightful series of romps based on the fact that time travel is real, books are actual places you can visit, whose characters can be kidnapped and their plots changed (find out why Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre” once had a very different ending!). They are silly, punny, delightful books staring the redoubtable Thursday Next, literary detective. They’re full of literary in-jokes, yet very accessible to someone who is not a book nerd.
Unfortunately, I’m having the same problem with TV that I’m having with books — everything’s all so dark and angsty and violent. But, there is this I found on Youtube:
It’s visually lucious and — it has Joe Cheng in it! Of course, it’s all in Chinese, and I haven’t a clue what it’s about, but it’s gorgeous to watch. . . And it makes at least as much sense as anything else in this messed up world. Good thing I can get YouTube on my smart TV. Since this is a TV show and there’s 70 episodes of it, I might need to have quite a lot of “self-care” (and knitting) in future.
I’m still amping up to do a thorough reorganization/sorting out/KonMari of my yarn stash (yes, the new bins are still sitting in the living room. . . sigh) and I desperately need to go on a frog it or finish it tear with my great pile of Works In Progress. I finished a little baby jacket yesterday that’s been languishing for a while. I also need to go on a block-athon as I have some acrylic things that really need to be blocked (“killed“) with a steam iron, but in this weather?!?!
* Hygge - While there’s no one English word or simple definition to describe the Danish concept of hygge, several can be used interchangeably to describe the idea of hygge such as cosiness, charm, happiness, ‘contentness’, security, familiarity, comfort, reassurance, kinship, and simpleness.
2 thoughts on “Hard Times, Hygge*, and Authors Who Are Hard On Their Protagonists”
I’m with you on avoiding the “dark and angsty and violent.” I just don’t need it these days. Another thing I don’t need are the rants of people who feel the need to go on and on and on and…. about the need to wear a mask. I’ve got it, and I do it. I don’t need to be continually lectured about it. At this point, anyone who isn’t with the program doesn’t want to be with the program, and another lecture isn’t going to help. And of course, people who might need the lecture probably aren’t sitting around reading the same blogs I am. So there. (OK, I’ll stop my own vaguely rantish complaint now.)
I do so agree about desperate times and desperate reading material. I find that non fiction answers my needs far more than any serious fiction, particularly books on nature and books by naturalists. Otherwise it has to be lightweight stuff, maybe novels from the golden age, both crime and historical, like They and Thirkell (both British).
I think I am going to enjoy reading this blog, I came here via Linda’s Lagniappe.