Monday, March 05, 2007

Thank Goodness An Adult Writer Has Written A Children's Book

I've been thinking of reading something by China Mieville for years. As with so many other things in life, I just haven't gotten around to it. Now he has written a children's book, which seems like a good excuse to give him a try.

I have not yet read his Un Lun Dun and only just heard of it about twenty minutes ago. What I have read is Laura Miller's glowing review, Un Lun Dun, in Salon. She comes to praise Mieville but also to bash kidlit.

Miller says, '"Un Lun Dun" is not only sleek of line and endlessly (but not needlessly) inventive, it also offers a nimble, undidactic antidote to all the dubious clichés of the genre. Sick of seemingly insignificant characters who discover they have a secret identity and a momentous destiny? Tired of stories that hinge on cryptic prophecies and the retrieval of magical talismans? Miéville dares to insist that nerve, heart and determination is all a hero(ine) really needs.'

Build up Mieville's book by knocking down a whole genre. Yet according to Miller, Un Lun Dun is set in an alternative London. How many alternative world books exist in children's literature? We're not exactly talking a revolutionary new concept here.

Miller also says, "The authors of children's books have always had remarkable leeway when it comes to echoing the classics. Sometimes the results are merely derivative, but in this case the allusions to Carroll and Baum and Norton Juster and Gaiman only highlight how original "Un Lun Dun" feels."

"Sometimes the results are merely derivative..." is a statement that really needs some documentation of some kind. Also, as much as I've liked Neil Gaiman's writing for adults, he seems a little young to be referred to as a writer of "classics."

I really want to read Un Lun Dun, and I certainly hope I'll like it because I don't enjoy spending time reading books I dislike. But this review has set my teeth on edge so that I'm not going to be going into it with an open mind. Oh, well. Maybe by the time I finally read the book I'll have forgotten about the review. Let's hope.

Another, less worshipful, review of Un Lun Dun appeared in The Los Angeles Times.


Kelly said...

Oh my goodness, Gail. I was going to post the EXACT SAME THING. Slate and Salon have got to stop posting reviews of teen fiction written by people who don't know anything about it.

I also want to read this book, but just want to point out that there are millions of alternative London books out there. Not to mention alternative world ones.

World's. Lamest. Review. Laura Miller should be embarrassed.

Kelly said...

I was ticked off enough to write in a short response over at Salon.

Gail Gauthier said...

Beat you!

My first thought, too, was that she didn't know the field she was writing about. My second thought was that maybe she knew a little about the field but didn't like it.

I thought the line about insignificant characters discovering they have a secret identity and a momentous destiny was interesting. I think there's a reason that scenario often appears in kids' fantasy, since seeking identity and dealing with their own lack of power are traditional themes in children's literature.