Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Wimping out on The Extinction Club


Is it possibly to recommend a book you haven't read? Not as a rule, in my opinion, which leaves me with a dilemma over Jeffrey Moore's The Extinction Club. Because I wanted to read it - it was just that I wimped out. I couldn't finish it. In fact, I didn't get very far with it, maybe about a third of the way in. After that, I was feeling too ill.

Here's what Penguin Canada had to say about it:
Nile Nightingale is on the run—from what he’s not exactly sure. For he suffers from a pharmaceutical backlog, after-sensations from the drugs and alcohol of his youth and anti-depressants of adulthood. Put simply, he sees things that aren’t there. Including extinct animals.
Enter fourteen-year-old Céleste Jonquères, a near-genius ‘spitfire’ who sees things all too clearly, things she wished she’d never seen. Including some atrocious acts of cruelty to animals in Quebec’s Laurentian forests. When Nile finds her bleeding body in a sack dumped in a half-frozen churchyard swamp, bound with red Christmas ribbon, he naturally tries to save her. After all, he did go to med school, and his father was a famous doctor… But what does he do about the local hunters who want her dead? And the images and voices he’s starting to see and hear inside his head?
The Extinction Club is a magic spell of a book—phantasmagoric, multilayered, full of singular characters, plot twists and neon dialogue. It is also a darkly comic tale, a compassionate ‘new noir’ in which a middle-aged American stamp collector and a teenaged Canadian brainiac share their views on life and death, love and loss.
My problem, as you can perhaps guess, came with Céleste's descriptions of what has been done to the animals she finds, and what she knows about the international trafficking of animal parts. In theory, I know this stuff already, I've read it elsewhere, or winced at videos I don't want to be watching. It's ridiculous that I can read about bad things happening to people (admittedly in a limited sort of way - no Girls with Dragon Tattoos here) and then turn into a wreck over bad things happening to animals, but I just can't bear it.

So I've given up on what seemed like a very good, moral book. I love the cover. I liked the writing, I was interested in the two main characters. I want to know about Nile's past, and whether he and Céleste can overcome formidable odds. I want to know more about the cat. Hell, I want to know more about the stamp collection. But I can't read any further. I can't even skip the bad bits. I ought to be brave, and informed. But I can't even leave the spine of the library book facing out on the shelf, because it will remind me of what I'm avoiding. I brought it home from the library because I know that Jeffrey Moore is a good writer and a nice guy (I organised a conference at which he was a speaker), but the sooner it gets returned, the better.

If you have stronger nerves than me, there's an excellent book there, I think ... I'll read one of his others.

13 comments:

  1. I'm exactly the same way! I just finished the Scorpio Races, and the people who were killed didn't upset me -- it was the mutilated horses that made me feel sad and wonder whether I should have read the book.

    I think it's pretty well known among writers that showing a villain mistreating animals is the most effective way to manipulate the reader into hating him/her. But why? I'll have to ponder that...

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    1. To be fair to the author I don't think it was so much about manipulation - I think there was a serious political point being made about abuse of animals. I've given up on several books because I felt it was simply there to make me hate a character, and then I get really annoyed about it, but here I felt the failing was on my part, not the author's.

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    2. I had to come back to your second point, Pat, much too interesting to let go.

      For me, it's a combination of two things: the defencelessness of the animals which makes me feel protectively towards them, and my inability to understand why anyone would derive any kind of satisfaction in causing pain, which means that I can't empathise with a character. A sadistic villain who finds a genuinely willing human victim *might* just amuse me for a while, though I'd worry about it; I can accept a degree of *necessary* violence, towards other people who mean harm, or even towards a man-eating lion, though I would regret it; I can accept that it's better to cull deer locally (for instance) than to have them wandering around in such numbers that they die on the roads; I simply can't get my head round someone hurting an animal for pleasure and my immediate reaction is revulsion, even if it's only someone pulling legs off flies. Immediate reactions are, in my opinion, often unreliable and should be subject to consideration and, if necessary, amendment, but in this case I see no reason to change.

      I think that covers the difference between animals and humans as far as I'm concerned, but I'd love to hear your thoughts...

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  2. I am the same when it comes to cruelty towards animals. Therefore, this book is definitely out of the question for me.

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    1. Writing about it made me wonder if I ought to make more effort to help prevent such treatment of animals - most of what I do is the "easy" kind of action, and consists mostly of supporting the Dogs Trust :-(

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  3. Thanks for the warning! Not for me.

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    1. I often benefit from warnings from my sons - varying from "comic book violence, so you should be okay" through "very good but you wouldn't like it" to "don't watch/read this!. Unfortunately, I got to this one first.

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  4. I wimped out of your description, I'm afraid so this isn't for me either. It does bring up an interesting question in relation to how much a writer should take account of audience sensibility. I wonder what discussions there had been with the editor before this was passed for publication?

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    1. My impression is that I would find this author's other books on the tough side anyway, which is one of the reasons why, after hearing him read from his first novel, I hadn't made a bigger effort to get hold of a copy. (The other excuse being that his books are not so easy to find in the UK.) So I suspect that the content was probably regarded as okay by the editor/publisher and appropriate to what readers of his previous work would have expected.

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  5. This was interesting to see your reaction, Geranium Cat. I wonder what his original idea was, to compare or contrast violence to women and violence to animals, and make some kind of commentary on the type of people who would do either or both? It's hard to admit defeat to a book, isn't it? And yet, some things don't bear reading. Thanks for the review, anyway. I like it when there are honest reviews about the books we like and the books we don't.

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    1. I suspect he was going to go on, if I'd kept reading, to make some very cogent points about violence to women and animals - and probably do it very well. I really did find a lot to like about it, and I think his reasons for including some graphic stuff about animals was justified by the context: the reader needs to know what dreadful things happen and, much to my surprise, lots of people don't. Perhaps I was just unfortunate in having some mental pictures to add to one paragraph, ones that I wish I hadn't, and could too easily make up the rest.

      And perhaps I shouldn't be so unwilling to be forced out of my cosy world - after all, I *do* believe that literature should function as more than the opiate of the masses. It would probably be more accurate (if less generous - thank you, Susan) to read my post not so much as an "honest review" as an anguished rant about being forced out of my comfort zone!

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  6. You are too cute with your post - no worries about not finishing! It does sound like a good book but I'm like you and could never handle the sad details about the animals. Thanks for your post - have a great weekend.

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    1. This is obviously very much a "be nice to animals" zone here :-)

      What a lovely profile picture you have! I'm guessing it's somewhere local to you?

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