In this post: Thoughts on My Reckless Surrender by Anna Campbell [jump to A], and on Fair Play by Tove Jansson [jump to B]—two books I very much expected I would like—hell, I wanted to like them—but, well, just couldn’t.
[A] • I like Anna Campbell, I really do. She was one of my great discoveries last year, with her Captive of Sin, and her book Untouched is one of the best reading of my year so far. Which is, you know, no pressure at all—especially since My Reckless Surrender, read in a ridiculously protracted time to make it last, is the last Campbell book in my shelves. Good lord.
My return to the book slowly devolved into mindless keening, also known as Romance Reader Reaction #0243, also known as She’s Not Worth All This Shit; Get Away From Her Now [also not-quite-shamefully known as item #0234a, or C’Mere, I Will Love You Better]. But I fought it, I fought it hard. Mostly because it was irrational, and the feeling’s intensity could have raised some alarms.
Okay. One of the things I like about Campbell is her willingness—her audacity, at times—to take risks. Risks, risks, risks. Rakes and harlots, and not only in name, abound her fiction. If you want angst, she delivers—angst that has, more often than not, stemmed from truly cruel acts of pathetic excuses for humanity. If you want sex, the novels have it in bucketfuls, and they’re never overpowering, they never stand as as-is smut: Here’s sex that furthers the relationship of the characters, even the respective self-discoveries of the H/h. Dude, Anna Campbell is the shiznit. For her risks alone—but, hell, she’s got crazy writing skills, not to mention the best ever characters, and the uncanny ability to make me hurt, dammit—she ought to be applauded. With more than a little fanaticism thrown in.
But, well, the risks in My Reckless Surrender—and, ergo, the book itself—just didn’t pay off. I mean, fine, I liked it, but the novel doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny and a rather painful contemplation once it’s put down. The elements were there, but it felt like the story and the heroine in particular got away from Campbell’s authority. Hell, I’ve seen Campbell’s control, and this here flagged a little. I think that the biggest Meh about this book was that it was, well, it was normal. Yes, well-written and affective, but normal.
In short: It’s a good, satisfactorily functioning, readable novel—but it’s just not as good as Campbell could have been.
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[B] • This is my second encounter with Tove Jansson—I first read her widely recognized masterpiece [I paraphrase!], The Summer Book. Like that book, Fair Play is also a book about nothing in particular, and everything imaginable.
Both novels took me a lot of patience to get through, even the knowledge that I ought not dive into it without me being able to commit. [I’ve long thought that I love these kinds of books—the über-subtle, excavate-between-the-lines kind of fiction.] It was the latter Jansson book that had me wondering if I was up to this kind of reading. And, well, given that I’d long thought that I was a fan—no, that I lived for books where nothing spectacular happened, but a wealth of feeling and volatility occurred within the pages.
Jansson’s novel-in-vignettes would have thrilled a calmer me, I’m sure. Then again, with how busy things have been in real life lately, I was looking for something that would engage. And this book was a polite way to pass the time—hell, yes, there are numerous shades of meaning to be found in seemingly mundane exchanges. And I loved those little sparks. An example:
“Mari,” said Jonna, “sometimes you’re really a little too obvious.”
“Do you think? But once in a while a person just needs to say what doesn’t need to be said. Don’t you think?”
And they went back to their reading.
But there just wasn’t enough palpable tension here, none of that volatility. Just those occasional sparks in an otherwise calm going. It’s a rich premise, yes: Two women having spent nearly a lifetime together. We come to them after years of having gone through compromises and negotiations about their lives as artists, among many other things. I mean, for that fact alone, this would have been right up my alley. I should have fan-girl-ed the hell out of this. But do I feel like shrugging if anyone asked me how this book was?