Thursday, July 21, 2005

A Book is an Artefact: Tricia Sullivan, Double Vision (Orbit, 2005)

I had intended to review Tricia Sullivan's new novel, Double Vision here, because although Sullivan doesn't write for teens I'd recommend her very highly for the teen girl market. if you've ever read Enid Blyton, then Sullivan's protagonists are more Anne than George, and as Maureen Lipman once noted, Anne stood up to horrors that would have sent her, and me, running for cover. Sullivan's characters prove that you don't have to be Amazon woman to be brave as hell.

But you'll have to stick to Dreaming in Smoke (a colonization novel) or Maul (mall rats meet cyberpunk) if you want to see what I mean, because Double Vision has been wrecked by a really terrible choice of layout (I don't know whether it was the author's decision, or the publisher's).

I have no idea whether this book is any good. I really and truly can't tell. The book has been printed in three different fonts: arial, courier and times roman. Each font indicates a level of reality. But because this is a convention we all recognise it means that right from the start, we know parts of this book aren't real. The novel might have just about stood up to that except:

arial: conventionally used for otherworld/dream sequences
courier: conventionally used to indicate computer screen type from the "olden days"
times roman: used every day.

So right from the very beginning I knew which layers were "real" and which were not. I recognised the different unrealities. By the end of three chapters I was skimming through the "unreal" levels, the sense of wonder wrecked by the knowledge that they weren't where the story was "at". Yes, they all came together at the end, but I had only been able to keep interested in the times roman sections, because I knew that this was what "mattered" (these sections were rivetting by the way). The other sections, no matter how brilliant (and some of the writing is excellent) bored me because I couldn't suspend belief when I was constantly being told by the layout (not the book) that they weren't real.

A niaive reader would have a very different response to this book so I don't want to write it off, but oh dear, what I would give to be a thirteen year old picking up this book, and not my world weary, cynical self.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I read Maul, I found it blindingly obvious which strand was unreal and how it was unreal from very early on, too, but it didn't bother me. I still found that part of the story engaging, and in fact I got quite involved in working out exactly how the two stories mapped onto each other as they were happening.

With any luck, I'll get my hands on a copy of Double Vision in the next week or so. It'll be interesting to see whether the fonts make any difference to me.

3:19 AM  
Blogger Farah said...

There is much less interactivity between the three layers in Double Vision. But do let me know what you think.

2:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, so I've finished it now. First-draft thoughts:

1. I found the different fonts irritating and unnecessary, but I don't think they damaged my suspension of disbelief. In fact, I found the Grid sections more interesting than the real-life sections. Choice of brand names alone is not enough to establish a 1980s setting.

2. I'm not sure how much I like the ending. Partly it felt too much like it was setting up for a sequel. Partly the last chapter just felt tacked-on. Partly I haven't untangled how I feel about where Cookie ends up. I'm not certain whether Sullivan's trying to criticise the use of protagonists who are mentally ill people with special talents that save the world, or trying to justify it, or bits of both.

3. I think it's a better paced and possibly more ambitious book than Maul (you're right that there's less interaction between the Grid and reality, but I think the Grid might be a more complex reflection of reality than Sun's story is), but I'm not sure I actually *like* it as much.

Interesting book, though. Must find time for Dreaming In Smoke at some point.

1:37 AM  
Blogger Farah said...

I still don't know who made the decision on the fonts, but I do now know the manuscript was delivered in a single font.

2:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

just for the record, the ms was actually delivered in those precise fonts. i use them for my own convenience in writing, to help me change voices. bummer that it didn't work for you, farah--but please don't shoot the publisher, shoot me! 7

7:56 AM  
Blogger Farah said...


Hi Trish


12:28 PM  

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