Monday, 16 July 2012
Book Review: Metro Winds
Title: Metro Winds
Author: Isobelle Carmody
Year Published: 2012
Genre: Literary fiction, Magic realism, Fantasy, Young Adult (?)
I've been a fan of the Obernewtyn Chronicles as well as the Legendsong for quite some time, so I picked up Isobelle Carmody's latest offering with an expectation of dreamy, immersive fantasy. This expectation was only partially met. Though all six stories contain fantastical elements, all are grounded in our world. Further, there is a more literary quality to the writing than I am used to for this author, which also meant I spent some time adjusting.
The first story, “Metro Winds”, is about a young girl who moves to live with her aunt in the city and becomes drawn to the tunnels of the metro. The writing in this story is simply beautiful; there is a poetic, magical quality to it, almost as if it's for children. I found the ending unsatisfying on a conceptual level, but it's worth reading for the language alone.
Next comes “The Dove Game”, in which an Australian travels to Paris to meet a woman on behalf of a dead man. This is story reads a bit more like general fiction, with the fantasy elements blended into the psychological confusion of the protagonist. While it's a perfectly decent story, the style felt a little generic. I can't help but feel as if it could have been written by any number of literary short story writers and it didn't really grip me as much as the other stories did.
At a little under a hundred pages is “The Girl Who Could See The Wind”. Here a girl is taken to a foreign land by her mother and eventually embarks on a quest to find her lost sister. This was one of my favourite stories in the book, being one of those pleasantly sweet kind of stories with allusions to various fairy tales. The writing style is more similar to the author's other works too, which is to say it's easy to read, dream-like and evocative. As a side note, (impliedly) indigenous Australians are portrayed in this story as spiritual people connected to the land, and I for one cannot decide whether this was respectful or cliched or both or neither.
I found the fourth story, “The Stranger”, to be the book's weakest. It's about a scriptwriter who travels to Greece and meets a strange woman. While the narrator's voice was novel (for example, how he sees reality as if it was shot as a movie), this alone was not enough to sustain my interest the whole way. It's alright, but not much happens for most of the story and I was constantly counting how many pages of it I had left.
“The Wolf Prince” was the other favourite of mine. It's the longest story of the collection and it involves a cursed faerie prince who must hunt a princess in order to save himself. It's told from the point of view of the queen who herself was hunted as a girl. The style is similar to the third story, albeit the fantasy here is front and centre. Again, fairy tales are inventively woven into the story, itself steeped with richness. It's a truly lovely read.
The last story is “The Man Who Lost His Shadow”, and involves the eponymous hero searching for his shadow in an unnamed European country. It's stark and strangely refreshing after the previous story, and the absurd notion of losing a shadow is treated is treated with a kind of frank practicality. The style is vaguely reminiscent of Peter Carey.
All the stories are quite varied – in style, tone and narrative. I personally found this jarring when reading them all one after the other; it might help if you think of the stories as being written by different authors, so you know to expect something different each time.
Still, despite the differences, common threads run through all the stories: the idea of a quest and the sense that a different world sits entwined with our own. Australia or Australians also feature in an express or implied manner, which adds another flavour to the tales.
Basically, if you're looking for a pure fantasy kick, you can just read “The Girl Who Could See The Wind” and “The Wolf Prince”. The others have a more ~literary~ general fiction kind of feel to them. All are well written. That said, while I was fine with reading it, there were also many times that I felt no compulsion to pick the book up again after having put it down. The author sets the bar so high with some stories that others seem lacking by comparison.
I've seen this book shelved in the YA section, but I would only recommend it to older teens or adults.
As a collection, Metro Winds feels a little patchy to me, though I admit this may be because I started the book with certain expectations. It's worth a shot if you're into literary fiction with a dash of magic. However, if you just want something similar to Carmody's fantasy series, then I'd just read the the odd-numbered stories.
Alex's Rating: 3.5/5