Sunday, December 14, 2014

Maybe Not a New Genre, But Brilliant Nonetheless

John Yeoman touts his anthology of stories about The Cunning Man (an apothecary/detective named Hippocrates Yeoman set in Elizabethan London) as a "new genre" of fiction that includes a tutorial for would-be writers. He cites the invention of the novel by Miguel Cervantes, and places his fictorial as the next leap forward.

Tall order.

To meet it, his stories must be well-written to begin, his tutorials must provide lessons that are necessary and useful to the writer, and these lessons must not detract from the stories themselves.

I went into the reading of The Cunning Man, then, with a chip or five on my shoulder. Cervantes is a giant—is this author David? (Or is he Vizzini? Anybody got a peanut?)

There are some issues with punctuation, to start. Yeoman uses hyphens (and touts their use) where an en- or em-dash would be appropriate. He doesn't seem to use commas inside the closing quote of a quoted phrase in a sentence. Normally, these are the kind of faults that grate on DrPat like wet chalk on a slate.

But as I "turned pages", a funny thing happened. I began to ignore the punctuation peccadilloes, because the stories are good, truly good. I was reminded of other historical novels that took on a less-known London, such as Neil Stephenson's Quicksilver, or perhaps a mystery set in a medieval society, like Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose.

Next, the tutorials. These are cogent, and play on the examples of techniques the author has used to tell the story. They are useful, if you have not encountered them before (and many beginners will not have). You can ignore them if you find them detracting from the story. 

And it is cool the way the tutorials open a window over the text rather than jumping to a footnote page. These footnotes reminded me of the major way my reading has changed since I began using a Kindle: I look things up—not just words from the dictionary, but entries from Wikipedia and iMDb and Goodreads. As I'm reading, I'm reading deeper and broader.

Is it a new, bold step in fiction? The equivalent of the birth of the novel? No. In my opinion, no. He has used a capability of the eBook that other writers have not.

Has the author put his whole craft into the open for the reader? No. In my opinion, no. Although he has made some choices and tricks explicit, which is helpful.

But is it a cool new way to read more into a story than ever before? Yes. Decidedly, yes. 

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