Monday, July 07, 2008

Gap Minded, Thank You

Erudite Mondays at HalfSoled Boots
Volume 4, Number 3

Mind the Gap
by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon

This is a very peculiar book. I don't know if it's ever happened to me before but when I finished reading this I thought to myself with a frown, "Huh. Am I going to read this again? Did I like this book? Was it any good? Was it bad? I'm......not sure."

The premise is this. Jasmine's mother is gruesomely murdered, leaving a last message for her teenage daughter, written in her own blood:

Jazz hide forever

The girl goes to ground, trying to evade capture by the sinister Uncles, a group of men who have haunted the edges of her life and her mother's. Jazz stumbles into a hidden world beneath the London Underground, taking refuge in forgotten bomb shelters and finding sanctuary with the ghosts that inhabit the deeps.

The book is equal parts mystery, fantasy, and coming-of-age story. This blending of genres felt a little uncomfortable to me - it felt at times like Stephen King trying to write a historical romance, or maybe Judy Blume trying her hand at a comic strip. I couldn't really put my finger on what it was that left me unsatisfied, but I think I like my fantasy to be fantastical, and I like my murder mystery mundane. In this book, worlds collided.

Many things are very well done indeed. The descriptions of the underworld, while not ponderously written, or terribly complicated, do give an impression of weight and claustrophobia to the reader. A lot of the scenes take place in the tunnels, and I could almost hear the water dripping, see the spectral light of a bare bulb, or smell the staleness in the sealed shelters.

Jazz takes up with a band of child thieves, led by a gentlemanly old scoundrel called Fagan......I mean, Fowler. She is mentored by another boy, Cadge, a roguish pickpocket who teaches her the tricks of his trade. The Dodger - oops, I mean Cadge - trains her well, until she is ready to perform the big heist on the Maylie's.....make that Mayor Bromwell's house.

Sure, it was a little derivative. It didn't bother me too much, however: there's nothing new under the sun. What did bother me was a feeling that the motives, the backstory of the novel, when these are finally brought to light, should have been explored more fully. I can't decide if it's a bad thing or a good thing, to be left wanting more at the end of a novel. This book was 400 pages - I wanted it to be 700. The plot, mostly in ghostly flashback form, really goes back to the 1940's, and it would have been great to have presented this backstory in more detail, and possibly even concurrently to the present-day sequences.

I'll tell you something weird. I saw the weaknesses of this book easily, but I couldn't put it down. I stood at the stove, stirring cheese sauce for my kids' lunch, reading. I took it with me when I biked downtown to meet my friend for coffee, on the off-chance that she'd be late and I could get a chapter in. I sat amidst piles of laundry unfolded, stacks of dishes unwashed, and a lace shawl partially knitted, and read this book to the last page.

Mind the Gap - strange book. Quite grisly - I wouldn't hand it to a tween for a bit of summer reading. It starts off with a shudder of revulsion, goes into quite a long, violence-free pause, then suddenly assaults your inner eye again with macabre sequences of appalling brutality. It's a bit unnerving.

Mind the Gap gets:

Reread? Yes
Given to Others? Yes - well, loaned...I don't think I'll buy copies as gifts or anything
Bookplate? No.

So, surprisingly, it ends up with a score of


By the way, I'll be posting sporadically as my long lost brother, Travelling Mack, has arrived with his family from the States. He'll be staying for a few weeks and we're all planning a lot of day trips, several afternoons at the outdoor pool, more than our fair share of barbecuing, and a good many hours of gabbing. It won't leave much time for posting, but that doesn't mean I don't love you.


Kristine said...

Books written by two authors often leaves me cold, especially when one of the authors is Christopher Golden. He's the yawn-captain of my mediocre fantasy ship.

Kristine said...

Sigh. *leave* me cold.

I hate making grammatical mistakes when I'm talking about books.

Shan said...

Ha - "yawn-captain", good one. I'd never heard of him before.

kate said...

Sounds interesting, if not slightly confused. Sometimes a story is captivating enough to overcome the writing.

Mind the Gap is a phrase so evocative of London and the Underground. Not sure I like it for such a dark book....

Glad brother and family have arrived safely. Have fun!!

Gwen said...

I like "yawn-captain." Very clever.

lizbon said...

As usual, another brilliant review, even if the book itself may or may not deserve it.

knititch said...

enjoy the visit.

slayground said...

I greatly enjoy Golden's books, including MIND THE GAP. I hope you'll check out MAP OF MOMENTS, the next Hidden Cities book, when it comes out. Golden's written a great deal of books, many of which are contemporary horror, sci-fi, and/or fantasy, some of which have historical or mythological elements and settings. I do hope you'll give his other books a try as well!

Dave Hingsburger said...

Welcome home Traveling Mack! I hope he didn't sprain anything in the move!

Once again a great review. I'm iffy on books that have the underworld in them - not that I've ever been there, but the images always seem either forced or trite and I end up irritated.

Have some good brother sister family time! I'd wave but I really am hurting.