Blood of elves (Andrzej Sapkowski, 1994)

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Blood of elves, by Andrzej Sapkowski (1994, Spanish version by José María Faraldo).

Score: First half quite boring, second half much better.

After two volumes of short stories set in the Witcher universe, Blood of Elves is the first full-length novel of the series. I wouldn’t recommend starting to read here, since the short stories “A matter of price”, “The sword of destiny” and “Something more” narrate events that are important to the plot of Blood of elves, and other stories help understand secondary arcs, such as “The edge of the world”.

Blood of elves follows Ciri’s education with Geralt and the other witchers in Kaer Morhen, and how Triss Merigold gets called for help with Ciri’s magical aptitudes, which threaten to get out of control. The second half develops the political situation that might lead to a Nilfgaardian invasion of the Northern Realms and the role Ciri plays in it as the lost heiress to the throne of Cintra.

The first half is not written very gracefully. It stalls a bit and Triss’s characterization and dialogue are not very well achieved. Sapkowski has a hard time writing women in general and Triss is no exception. Her dialogue with Ciri sounds stiff and not very natural and her only being defined as a character by her unrequited love for Geralt doesn’t help much. The rampant misogyny (“Geralt muttered something about women and their impulsive personalities, the dwarf took this as too mild a definition of their malice, sadism and vengefulness”), never compensated with well-written women, makes this an unpleasant read in some passages. Ciri is quite well-written from the beginning, which actually doesn’t come as a surprise since she’s quite the tomboy. Anyway, she’s a pleasure to read.

What was special about the short story anthologies was that they deconstructed and played around with many tropes from traditional fantasy and folklore. The first half of this book just plays the Chosen One trope straight and adds uninteresting information about the universe for some hundred pages.

The second half gets better. The plot gets finally seasoned with some political movement, including the introduction of the Scoia’tael and some of the history of the elves. Though the plot is not astounding, it’s much more entertaining and achieved than the first half.

The introduction of Yennefer of Vengerberg as Ciri’s teacher serves two functions very well. Firstly, Yennefer is no longer only defined by her frustrated desire to be a mother. As petty and nasty as she could be a handful of pages prior, she gets developed as a rounded-up character with her virtues and vices. Secondly, the nature of magic in this universe gets defined and explained. While Sapkowski avoids subverting the usual tropes for this kind of work, it looks like it will serve the plot right. Anachronisms like Linus Pitt the naturalist and mentions of Mendelian inheritance strike as out of place in a world that for everything else looks like Medieval Europe. It’s a quite bold decision, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

All in all, the quality level on the second half goes up after the depression in The sword of destiny and this novel’s first half and it leaves a quite promising landscape for Time of Contempt.

The rules of attraction (Bret Easton Ellis, 1987)

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The rules of attraction, by Bret Easton Ellis (1987).

Score: Ruthless and delightful.

What American psycho was to yuppies and Glamorama was to models The rules of attraction is to rich and spoiled college students. In case the news hasn’t reached you yet, yes, Ellis has made a career out of laughing at rich and shallow people. No, you’re not supposed to like the characters. Yes, they’re petty and obnoxious. Now that we have gotten over this point in our lives as readers, we can move on and examine the book.

In the same almost plotless style of his other books, The rules of attraction follows the monotonous and immoderate lives of Sean Bateman (Patrick’s brother), Paul Denton and Lauren Hynde as they major in they’re not sure what Liberal Arts degree in the fictitious college of Camden, New Hampshire. The vignette-like chapters portray wild parties, indifferent sex, drug binges, sleeping through classes and musical tastes as personal statements.

Being Ellis’ second novel, it still feels more costumbrist and straightforward than his later works, but the spark is already there. This doesn’t have the hilariously absurd dialogue American Psycho does, or the surrealist quality and symbolism Ellis unfolded in Glamorama, but the satire is so smooth I could swear I’ve heard classmates of mine have the same conversations and seen them do the same stupid shit. It does have side-spiltting little gems, like Sean thinking to himself “Terror in the Dining Halls. Part IVXVV” or “Actually I thought I was failing four courses. I try to guess which one I’m passing”, Lauren ordering a champagne on the rocks or Sean destroying his vinyl collection out of angst, only after checking carefully that he has copies of everything on tape.

Ellis’ prose does the amazing job of portraying his characters’ misery in the first person while having them remain credible narrators. There is a lyricism that permeates the narration that comes not from the vocabulary (which is quite plain, as suitable for the characters), but from the events, objects and memories that they choose to highlight in the ennui-filled debauchery that are their lives.

All in all I wouldn’t recommend it as an entry point to Ellis’ work, but you’ll like it if you liked his other novels.

American Psycho (Mary Harron, 2000)

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American Psycho, directed by Mary Harron (2000).

Score: Entertaining as a film, underachieving as a book adaptation.

American Psycho tells the story of Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), a Wall Street yuppie who also turns out to be a serial killer. Patrick enjoys working out, going to expensive restaurants, renting porn movies and hiring and killing the occasional prostitute. After killing his coworker Paul Allen (Jared Leto) he starts getting visits from a detective named Donald Kimball (Willem Dafoe) who is investigating Allen’s disappearance.

The first half stays quite faithful to the book, with dialogue directly lifted from it, and shows the decadence and emptiness in the lives of the rich, though it doesn’t manage the book’s hilariousness because it doesn’t get enough time to develop. The second half focuses on the murders and feels like a light thriller, forgetting the themes from the first half (and the book) and going straight for the gruesome details. It feels quite tame after fifteen years (or after having read the book, I don’t know which is right), though apparently it was quite controversial back in the day. I guess Breaking Bad has taught people that having a villain protagonist doesn’t mean you condone their actions or have to sympathize with them or anything.

As an adaptation of the book, it falls short in many fronts, most prominently giving too much importance to the murders. The way I read it, the book was a satire of rampant consumerism and greediness, an aspect of which were the murders, a reflection of Bateman’s disregard for human life. Movie!Bateman ***SPOILERS***is sick in the head and actually believes he murdered those people. Book!Bateman doesn’t believe he did any of it for one second. He’s a pathological liar and he’s trying to use the romantization of serial killers and psychopaths as an excuse for his being the heartless bastard he is. People still didn’t get it.***END SPOILERS***

So while it is entertaining to watch as a standalone work, the way I read the book, the movie is comically missing the point about many things, if not everything that happened in the novel. Still worth watching, even if it is only worth introducing you to the work of Bret Easton Ellis.