Thursday, October 29, 2009

Isis by Douglas Clegg

I'm not sure what to think about Isis. It's a beautifully written and illustrated novella, strange and dreamy. But it's also uneven. Most of the book is reminiscence leading up to a tragedy, and then the main character Iris does one thing and another character does one thing, and then it ends. With all the build-up, I wanted more to happen. I also wanted more to be resolved.

I can't decide if the fault lies with me for wanting action with a happy ending, or if the book really is too still and open-ended. I suspect it's somewhere in between. Clegg brings up too many issues without explaining them--what was with the drowned bird? what was with the shadowy seed-man?--and I find it frustrating to have ends hanging like that. It feels sloppy.

On the other hand, the story is what it is: a short tale of grief and loss that steeps the reader in atmosphere. It's not exactly plot-driven and shouldn't need to be. I did enjoy it; the writing is lovely. I suspect it'll be one of those stories I reread in the fall when rain is pasting fallen leaves to the sidewalk and I'm feeling melancholy.

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5 comments:

Jamie Eyberg said...

I adore Clegg's books. I haven't read this one.

K.C. Shaw said...

I'd never read him before. He's a very good writer.

Jackie said...

The illustrations were perfectly suited to the dreamlike story.

I need to read more Clegg. He was a nice surprise for Halloween.

douglas-clegg said...

You bring up some interesting points about my novella, Isis. The bird, the form of the man in the whirlwind of thistles and leaves...why aren't these better delineated, what does it mean?

My intention was to tell a story completely from the narrator's point of view. The mysteries of the story that you mention are mysteries to her -- but they occur at the point when her grief and anger have exploded -- and her psychic abilities have begun.

Is the man who almost forms in the seedlings and thistle her brother? Or some other entity? Or is it just her desire to conjure him, and a trick of wind and moonlight?

If you re-read the book, there is a reason why that little bird is there, but you'd have to examine two other particular points in the story that refer to birds to find out why it might be there at all. Iris might have experienced the strange little bird in the thunderbox room as something connected to both her brother and to Death itself.

I suspect on a re-read, you might find it a bit less sloppy than you first thought. Or perhaps not.

While the story is entirely character-driven, it's a very structured tale -- there's not a moment that isn't important to the story as a whole, even if the moment seems minor at the time.

I appreciate the thoughtful review here. Thanks for reading Isis.

Best,

Douglas Clegg

p.s. Jamie, K.C., and Jackie, thank you.

K.C. Shaw said...

Thanks very much for your comment, and I do appreciate your clarification of some of the issues I brought up in the review. I'm the first to admit I'm an impatient, plot-oriented reader. Rereading often takes care of that and helps me read more deeply. :)