Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Review: The Golem and the Jinni

The Golem and the Jinni
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It took me a while to read this book from when I first became aware of it. I sampled it, and concluded that it hadn't gripped me enough in the sample to pay whatever price the publisher had it at at the time, but that it was well enough written to buy when the price dropped. Eventually, it did, and I found that the rest of the book didn't grip me all that hard either, despite being well done in many ways.

Although two of the characters are supernatural beings, in many ways this is a literary novel. By that I mean that it is concerned with the inner lives and the relationships of the characters more than with the outward plot (although there is an outward plot), that it spends a lot of time on these inner lives and relationships and on conveying the setting (New York at the turn of the 20th century), and that it therefore moves rather slowly for someone used to genre fiction. It's beautifully, and in the main competently, written, as well. (I say "in the main" because of several malapropisms: "adapted" for "adopted", "born" for "borne", "exorbitant" for "extravagant" and "precedence" for "precedent". Apart from these, I spotted no typos or proofreading errors.)

In a more "pure" genre novel, the focus would have been much more on resolving the problems of the Golem (an artificial woman who has ended up without a master and may be dangerous, despite her uptight manner) and the Jinni (a spirit of fire who has been trapped in human form by a wizard). Although there is some resolution to these problems, there's a lot more about their relationships with each other and the humans who befriend them.

Initially, we're introduced to a number of different characters who haven't met yet, or who have met briefly and then parted, and are living what seem to be non-intersecting lives. The title characters don't meet until about a third of the way through the book, and it isn't a short book. To me, even though I took it on faith that these apparently irrelevant characters would eventually meet up and take part in the story, this meant I had to work hard to be interested in them, given that they didn't connect to each other or anything that had gone before yet. Because a lot of what goes on for the characters, especially early in the book, is relatively mundane, this wasn't all that easy.

The contrast of the mundane and the magical is part of what the book is about, as is what might be broadly called law versus chaos (represented by the main characters' personalities). Personally, I found I had to wade through a lot of mundane that wasn't really doing a lot for me in order to reach the magical, and I wish there had been less of it and that the pace had been quicker.

If you enjoy more literary fantastical novels, like [b:Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell|14201|Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell|Susanna Clarke|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1357027589s/14201.jpg|3921305], you'll find a lot to like here. The depiction of New York is lovingly detailed, including its ethnic neighbourhoods, and the relationships are well depicted. The characters have depth, but I didn't feel they had a lot of vitality, all in all.

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