Monday, October 30, 2006

Reader's Diary #180- Shannon Patrick Sullivan: The Dying Days (up to Chapter Two)

I'll begin by offending people:

The Newfoundland writing community, while large per capita, still isn't all that big. In many ways that could be a good thing. Authors can rely on each other for support and advice. But it can also be a bad thing. I think it makes it extremely difficult to get an honest review. Potentially, all an author needs to do is show up to a few open houses, a few artsy things at the LSPU Hall or The Rooms, befriend the handful of critics, and voila, their books are suddenly great. It's my cynical opinion.

So when Shannon Patrick Sullivan first commented on my blog, I was a little skeptical that maybe I was being played. A little friendly commentary, a little friendly review right?

Fortunately, I've been enjoying Sullivan's book so far. Authors are trying to make a living afterall, they're allowed to market their books, to try and make a few bucks- that doesn't mean their work is necessarily sub par.

There's a lot that I'm really impressed with about The Dying Days. It's very witty (though at times he relies a little on the one-liners that I'm not too fond of). In a scene where Christopher, the main character, sits at a bar trying for five minutes to think of something witty to say to the bartender, I laughed out loud at the drunken result.

Plus, The Dying Days has a great old-fashioned story-telling feel to it. Under each chapter is a little heading/summary, ex. "Chapter One- In which Unusual Sights are beheld". It's quirky and sets the tone of the book.

The Dying Days is a fantasy novel and I openly admit, I don't have a whole lot of experience with that genre. Though I will say I am enjoying Sullivan's pacing. At first set in the "normal" world of St. John's, the first supernatural element doesn't occur until the end of the first chapter. By that time, I've already grown connected to Christopher.

Finally, I'm enjoying the treatment of the setting. Placed in St. John's, it could be easy for Sullivan to pick his audience a little too selectively; geared towards Newfoundlanders who are familiar with place, or towards mainlanders who wouldn't know George Street from Bloor. However, he handles it gracefully so that anyone could pick up the book and place themselves there. He doesn't go overboard with map-like descriptions, yet he doesn't make faulty assumptions that every reader knows exactly what he's talking about.

I really hope it stays this good.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

You are in a rather dicey position of reviewing a book written by someone you have met. The fact that you have pinpointed the issues with writing and reviewing in a small community shows that you are aware of the tendancy to look more favourably on homegrown books, so are not about to fall into that trap.
That said, I think you have too much integrity for that to ever happen anyway.

John Mutford said...

I haven't actually met Shannon. He's left a couple or so comments here and there, but that's it. Though I do remember seeing him on Who Wants To Me A Millionaire, the Canadian Edition.

John Mutford said...

And also, I bought his book, so even if I don't like it in the end and I say a few nasty comments, at least he's got my money!

Anonymous said...

Hi John,

I'm going to resist making too many comments as you're reading The Dying Days -- both for fear of giving too much away, and because I don't want to inadvertently bias your thoughts! I will say at this stage, though, that I'm very glad that you're finding my treatment of St John's works.

One of the big problems I have with a lot of Newfoundland art -- literature, film, you name it -- is that it tends to be made by us and for us. Audiences not from Newfoundland, or lacking an intimate knowledge of Newfoundland, tend in my experience to find a lot of our output impenetrable... or just utterly disconnected.

I really wanted to avoid that with The Dying Days -- to make St John's as vivid to a reader from away as if it had been a completely fictional city I was making up -- without sacrificing the unique character and atmosphere of the community. Hopefully that holds up throughout the novel.

As to your initial comments, while I was unashamedly fishing for a review :) I definitely wasn't fishing for a necessarily positive review. If you end up hating parts of (or all of) The Dying Days, please say so. As I may have mentioned before, one of the things that I'm most keen on, now that the novel is out in general circulation, is to learn both what I did right and what I did wrong. That way, if there's ever a second novel (and knock wood that there will be), I'll be able to do better; I firmly believe that it's a writer's responsibility to constantly strive to improve.

John Mutford said...

Hi Shannon,
I'll definitely be honest. I know what it's like trying to get feedback- good or bad. So far, so good. Though I'd add the disclaimer that anything I (or anyone else)say that might be construed as "bad", may not necessarily be something you've done "wrong"- it might just be a matter of different tastes.

Anonymous said...

Hey John you should review the players manual for the boardgame "Traders of Genoa". I hear that's a challenging read.


John Mutford said...

Anonymous, I feel like I'm playing "This Is Your Life" a la Sesame Street.

It can't be! It couldn't be! Is it Leha or Kelly? Yay!

Anyway, I have know idea how you stumbled upon my site, but email me! The email address we have for you is outdated. So excited to hear from you.

Unless of course I'm wrong- in which case the "Traders of Genoa" comment was just way bizarre.

Anonymous said...

Ha that's a good analogy - you hearing our disembodied voices while Guy Smiley grins on. Yes it's us... I'd like to say that finding you was a major feat of investigative prowess, but in fact we just Googled you.

We'll drop you a note this week with our new email address.