Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Book of the New Sun

What can I say? I will not presume to critique, what for me was an instant classic in, Gene Wolfe’s omnibus edition of The Book of the New Sun. I can only give impressions.

First, it feels ephemeral, nearly dream-like. The unfolding of the events transcends the surreal, or unreal, and is truly fantastic. In many ways, Wolfe has taken the classic coming of age story and given it such a makeover, that it is nearly impossible to recognize as such. I don’t believe that I can ever approach a fantasy story and expect an innovation to that classic theme to surpass what Wolfe has written.

I was off-balance throughout the entire story. This is largely because I was expecting to find, at the end of the tale, I was an eyewitness to the delusions of an unstable mind. I half expected to have the story end with the reader finally learning that Severian was a patient at a sanitarium.

Any further reading may expose one to spoilers.

In the final book, The Citadel of the Autarch, Severian was a patient in a lazaret, just behind the front lines of the major war taking place alluded to throughout the entire tale. While there, he agrees to judge the best of several different tales. Ultimately, four tales are told. I was disappointed by the fact that Severian never addresses which tale was best and why. To be sure, each of the four tales told had merit as being stories with a message, or moral, to them.

Though Severian dealt very honorably with Dorcas in the end, I had hoped that he would actually speak with her and say to her the things he never had. It is also rather creepy to contemplate that he was her grandson. The author alludes to this during a conversation that takes place when Severian returns to the inn near the Sanguinary Fields to find Ouen.

The Book of the New Sun is a classic. I can think of less than ten works I would be willing to classify as such. It was a true treat to read such a work for the first time. Now, it will be difficult to go on reading something for a little while, since few if anything can measure up and I wouldn’t want to subconsciously be comparing the next read to Wolfe’s masterpiece.

Verdict: Must-read and All-time Classic


N. R. Alexander said...

Finishing The Book of the New Sun has to be one of my topmost priorities for 2010, but I seem to have been cursed by some spiteful creation in my quest to finally finish the third novel and get to the last chapters of Wolfe's sequence.

One interruption from real life or another has halted my already-slow progress every single time, I swear, I've tried to read these books. No more distractions!

But then, well. Then there's the Book of the Long and Short Sun cycles to think about. Oh my.

Thanks for the write-up in any case, Peter. UA has long been a pleasure to read through of an idle afternoon.

PeterWilliam said...

Yeah, it'll be a long run to go through all at once. I'm still attempting to digest a great deal of it.

Thanks for reading UA and stopping by.

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