Tag Archives: The Twistrose Key

Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten Blogging (and Bookish) Confessions

I don’t always take part in Top Ten Tuesday‘s blogging challenges, but when I do, I make ’em good ones. (Follow the link, by the way, to be brought to the Top Ten Tuesday page over on The Broke and the Bookish, which is a veritable feasting hall of delight and inspiration).

And now. Let’s get stuck in.

Image: New Old Stock http://nos.twnsnd.co/

Image: New Old Stock
http://nos.twnsnd.co/

1. This blog has reduced me to tears on more than one occasion.

Some mornings, I just don’t know what to write about, and every word is hacked from the marrow of my bones. Some mornings I write about stuff that’s personal or painful or sad. Some mornings something I choose to blog about just touches my heart for no real or understandable reason (this happens to me a lot – I’m an easy crier). For loads of reasons, writing this blog can sometimes be an adventure in emotion – and that’s not always a bad thing.

2. I judge books too quickly sometimes – and live to regret it.

I am such a sucker for a gorgeous cover, and I can’t tell you how often a blurb has sucked me right in, only to spit me right back out once I’ve finished the book. Beautiful artwork always gets me on a cover, but what gets me even more is gorgeous typography. I’m a total lettering nerd. The last one I remember which really grabbed me – and made me buy the book before I’d even read the back flap – was The Twistrose Key:

Look at it. I mean... *look!*

Look at it. I mean… *look!*

You may remember that I enjoyed this book, but that it didn’t leave me as breathless with admiration as I’d hoped it would. Books are works of art to me, though, so I never regret owning them. I just sometimes regret reading them. (This isn’t the case with Twistrose, though – I think it’s a good, enjoyable book. With a stonkingly good cover).

3. I regularly – as in, more than once a week – wonder if I overshare on this blog.

Sometimes, I worry that I give out too much personal information here on Clockwatching…, even though – when I think about it logically and calmly – I realise that I don’t, really. I do my best to keep my family out of view, and I always aim to be respectful to others, whether it’s people about whom I’m writing (public figures, for instance) or writers whose books I review, or whatever. I share a lot about myself, perhaps, but I do that in conversation too so it comes naturally. Regularly, though, I do wonder whether I should consign this blog and all who sail in her to the dustbin of history; then, I remember that time will do that for me anyway, so why bother.

4. I dogear books, sometimes. And I write in ’em, particularly if they’re ‘working’ books.

Gah. I hate confessing this.

So yes, yes, all right, I dogear books if there isn’t a bookmark to hand. That doesn’t happen in my house very often, luckily. Sometimes I dogear if there’s a beautiful quote I want to make note of, or something, too. However, I never dogear the following: hardbacks, antiquarian books, library books, books that don’t belong to me, beautifully produced volumes, or books I’d consider ‘expensive’ (i.e. over twenty quid, or so). We’re talking cheap paperbacks here, so don’t lose your reason. And I only write in books if they’re research volumes – when I was studying, for instance, I would use books like text and workbook all together sometimes. Stop judging me.

5. Sometimes, I wonder who I’m blogging for.

It’s not something that keeps me awake at night, brimming over with angst or anything like that, but I do think about it quite a lot. Who reads my words – if anyone? Does it actually matter? If I never blogged again, would anyone care? I guess my answer is, I blog for me. I blog because I enjoy it and because it makes me feel part of a larger cultural conversation, and that’s pretty cool.

6. I have lied about reading certain books that I, in reality, have not read.

Not for a long time, in my defence. But when I was younger and trying so hard to be hip and down with it and cool, I would pretend to have read things like Sartre because I knew enough about him, in general terms, to hold a passionately argued discussion over coffee and/or beer. However, the fact remained that I had not read him. Now, I’m pretty sure nobody else had either, and we were all trying to fool one another.

Good times.

7. I wish I had more blog readers.

Yeah. So there’s this. I read about other bloggers who’ve been writing pretty much as long as I have who’ve managed to gather sixty thousand followers and over a million blog hits and I’m like: what am I doing wrong?

Image: New Old Stock http://nos.twnsnd.co/

Helloooo? Is anybody out here? Image: New Old Stock
http://nos.twnsnd.co/

The sad fact is, I’m probably not doing anything wrong, as such. Being a successful blogger is a lot like being a successful writer: it’s about timing and luck as much as it is about skill. But then, being a ‘successful blogger’ can be defined as having at least one reader who isn’t your mother, so by that reckoning I’m a blogging megastar. (Thank you, by the way, to everyone who does read me, whether it’s regularly or only once in a while. I appreciate it all).

8. There are so many books I didn’t enjoy that everyone else loved, and I’ve never really been able to admit it.

I still can’t really admit it here. I am loath to name names, but these books include: a beautifully presented work of post-colonial magical realism given to me by a friend for a birthday gift, many years ago; a thumping work of historical fiction which went on to win the Booker Prize; a Kurt Vonnegut-ish, J.G. Ballard-esque tale about exploration and drilling and science which I only made it halfway through before it hit the wall. I feel like a failure. But so it is.

9. I simply cannot keep up with all the blogs I follow.

I love them all, but I get to read about 5% of their content, and I skim a lot. This means I’m doubly appreciative of anyone who takes the time to read my words; I understand that mine is only one tiny voice in a multitude and that there are others who sing far more sweetly than I do. Every so often I set aside an hour and spend it catching up on my blog reading (and then, of course, there are the blogs I’ll always read, no matter what), so I think I do okay, all told. But still. This admission pains me.

10. I do firmly believe that people should be free to read what they want – seriously, I do – but I still hate entire genres of literature with a passion.

Well. Genre, at least. I hate the cappuccino-sipping Louboutin-wearing Dior-scented glitterfests which masquerade as ‘women’s fiction’, the sorts of books which obsess over relationships and the fact that our heroine has to have a man at the end or she’s a total waste of space as a human being. I am not a fan of modern women’s fiction, broadly speaking, and it pains me to see so many books being published about things I consider ephemeral and pointless. I do appreciate they’re very popular and bring a lot of people a lot of enjoyment, and that’s marvellous; all reading is good reading.

But still. How many books about a “clumsy-but-endearing heroine stumbling across the love of her life, losing him during a drunken misunderstanding whereupon he marries another, only to serendipitously meet again in Naples or Venice or somewhere, whereupon their other partners die/fall in love with one another/come out as gay and everyone lives happily ever” after can one person read?

Not judging anyone who loves them. Seriously, not. But they’re just not my type of book.

So, that concludes our session for today, mein lieblings. Care to share your own Top Ten Blogging and/or Bookish Confessions?

 

Book Review Saturday – ‘The Twistrose Key’

Aha, the lure of a gorgeous cover. It snared me again with ‘The Twistrose Key.’ But before you judge me, just look at it. Wouldn’t it have snared you, too?

Image: goodreads.com

Image: goodreads.com

‘The Twistrose Key’ is the début novel of Tone Almhjell, a Norwegian writer, and the love of the North is inscribed all over this book. It is set partly in a wintry magical Otherworld known as Sylver, where the snow and ice is not seen (hurrah!) as a symptom of evil magic, but merely is, and the creatures who live there exist quite happily within it. The central concept of the story is lovely – Sylver is a place where creatures who were, in life, loved by a human child go when they die – and there are some moments of gorgeous writing and wonderful scene-setting. There are some memorable characters, and lots of juicy mythological/fairytale references for nerds like me to pick up on, but… But.

Is it possible for a book to try to do too much? If so, then I think ‘The Twistrose Key’ falls into that trap, just a little.

Our central (human) character is Lin Rosenquist, who has just moved into a new rented home with her parents after her mother is asked to come and work in a large, prestigious university. Thrillingly, her mother is employed as a sort of musicologist – or, at least, she examines folk and traditional music for its larger, wider meaning, which is important as the story unfolds – and I found that interesting, and different, and just up my alley. The book’s opening sentence is: ‘The grave that Lin had made for her friend could not be touched by wind’, and once we’ve been thoroughly sucked into the story by this gripping image (what grave? What friend? How can a child make a grave?) we gradually work out that ‘the friend’ is her late, lamented pet Rufus, who was (or is?) a vole of remarkable fortitude.

She returns to the house in order to eat with her parents, who give her some bad news – softened somewhat by offering her her favourite dessert of rice pudding (another thing we had in common, Lin and I) – and notices someone giving her a message through the window. When she rushes to the front door to find out who this strange messenger is, all she finds is a mysterious parcel addressed to her – but not using her given name. The parcel is addressed to ‘Twistrose’ – a name she has given herself, but which she has not told anyone else about. How can this be?

Inside the package, Lin finds a pair of keys. One opens the door to the cellar, entry to which had been forbidden by their landlady, but Lin ignores that and goes down there anyway. The second key, shaped like a rose complete with thorns, opens up a passageway through the wall of her cellar into a different world entirely. Lin finds herself in the land of Sylver – and reunited with her beloved Rufus, who is now as tall as she is, and able to speak.

Lin is a Twistrose, or a special child with power to pass between our world and that of Sylver. She is not the first – several others have been there before her, and all of them have succeeded in carrying out a special, vital task, something which only they can do. Lin’s task is perhaps the most important of all. In order for Sylver’s magic to continue, it depends on the gate which leads to the ‘real’ world being kept open – but a special boy, a Winterfyrst, with the power to do just this, is missing. Lin must find him before the night is out, or Sylver will die – and her passage back home will be closed forever.

I liked the basic plot of this book, as I’ve outlined it above. However, there was far more to the book than just this. We also had plots and counter-plots, intrigue and skulduggery from some of the animal characters; we had a whole subplot involving the boy (Isvan Winterfyrst) and his mother, who is also missing; we had the land of Nightmare, kept separate from Sylver by the Palisade which is also at the risk of failing and, thereby, wreaking havoc on the inhabitants of this pet-afterlife. We had the ‘baddie’, named the Margrave, who is mentioned throughout the book but who only appears very briefly near the end. In short, there was a lot going on.

Perhaps it’s as a result of this packed narrative, and maybe also a certain coolness and compactness of phrase which is common to a lot of Scandinavian authors, but I never really felt I got a sense of Lin. I was far more emotionally invested in Rufus, her pet, who is more roundly described and more engagingly realised than his human. I liked the fact that we have a character named Teodor – a fox, fittingly – who we’re never quite sure of; is he good, or bad? What are his motivations? I liked the writing, which – very regularly – had me nodding my head or smiling at a particularly well-turned phrase. However, there were a lot of coincidences in this story, and things popping up just when they’re needed, like a magical sled with a personality which just happens to have the power to do exactly what’s needed, right when it’s needed, which I just couldn’t buy. Also, the phrase ‘by an incredible stroke of luck’ appears at least twice. If you’re relying on ‘incredible strokes of luck’ more than once in a book, then something isn’t quite right with your plotting, I feel.

I had worked out who the Margrave was long before ‘the reveal’, and I should think any child who has read the Harry Potter books would be able to do the same. This isn’t a problem, as such – but what I wish is that there had been more time devoted to this character. Almhjell could have written a whole book based solely on the Margrave, and she could have written another based solely on Isvan Winterfyrst. This means ‘The Twistrose Key’ is complex and layered, but also frustrating in its lack of character development. The book is not short, but there’s just so much going on that some of the wonderful elements in it don’t have the room they need to breathe.

I did enjoy the book, but it wasn’t – for me – a patch on Philip Pullman or Garth Nix or J.K. Rowling or C.S. Lewis, or any of the other authors whom Almhjell seems to be modelling herself on. I will look out for her future work, and hope she doesn’t throw everything, including the kitchen sink, into her next novel.