The Unwritten: Leviathan and On to Genesis
The Unwritten, I think, has the potential to dethrone Fables as my current favorite ongoing comic series. I mean, I like Fables — if you’ve been paying attention to my history, this is abundantly clear — but I also see that it has some failings. It makes me wonder if the series has gone as far as it can, but I’ve thought that before, and seen the writer pull off something that’s surprising and poignant. Now, though, it seems like stories are being rehashed and retread, and The Unwritten is still fresh enough to see a natural progression of the story. Plus, the overarching mystery of who — or what — Tom Taylor really is carries the series a bit better than the arcs that makes up Fables. At the very least, The Unwritten has a better sustained storyarc that carries it better, and makes it feel a bit more consistent. The creators are revealing the hints in a piecemeal fashion, but in such a way that the mini storyarcs feed into that reveal. It never feels forced, or frustrating.
I’m glad I got to read these two volumes back-to-back, as they both seem to follow a similar theme, of stories gaining power from the people who read them. Specifically, the more people read and believe in a certain story, the more power it grants the people and characters of that story, and the more real that story becomes. It’s a little reminiscent of “Vanni Fucci Is Alive and Well and Living in Hell” by Dan Simmons, and even Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series, especially with all the literary connections. By itself, Leviathan is a little slow but meaningful (sort of like those alternating Fables collections that I’ve mentioned), but together the two collections make for a very compelling, interesting read.
So, is it fair to rate or review Fables based on a new series that follows a similar theme? Probably not. But at the same time, would The Unwritten have been written without something like Fables preceding it? Again, probably not. So much of the stories we read depend heavily on what came before them (Fables owes a great deal to The Sandman, for instance), and interestingly enough, that’s another theme that you’ll find repeated in all three of those series. So maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on Fables, after all.
The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
Does anyone remember the splatterpunk movement in horror fiction, back in the ’80s? You know, when the shock of graphic violence replaced the emotional feeling one got from reading a genuinely eerie, spooky story? Unfortunately, I do, and I say “unfortunately,” because while I thought it was edgy and profound then, now I find it to be just profane. A lot of authors survived that movement (Clive Barker and Joe Lansdale are two who come right to mind), and even retained some of that shocking imagery, but I think what made them successful beyond that movement was the fact that they understood what made a good horror story effective. It had to get under your skin, make you believe in it despite the unlikeliness of it all, and make you question what you knew about the world around you.
The Woman in Black understands the sensibilities of what makes for a good, spoooky story. It’s set on an island that’s accessible only by a land bridge that’s covered during high tide, in a large, sprawling house where a death has recently occurred. The townspeople won’t speak of the house or the strange goings-on that take place there, even when they’re directly confronted by it. It’s unnameable and unspeakable, and it’s up to the main character to discover what’s going on, and of course he’s the narrator of the story. And that whole atmosphere of the story is wonderful.
Ultimately, I think the story was disappointing. I love the feel of it, and the way that the author creates that sense of foreboding that’s necessary to carry the story, but unfortunately, that’s all that the story really is. We learn the history behind the house and the oddness to it all, but is it enough to satisfy the build-up to that point? It’s hard to say. It’s understandable and tragic, but is it justified? Does it matter that the entire thing feels unresolved? And does it even matter? The theme seems to suggest that the lack of closure plays in to the events, but it goes against what I expect out of the stories I rad.
This is a short novel, and probably will only take an afternoon to finish, but I’m not sure that I would recommend it. I guess it depends on what you want out of the story. If you want a good, creepy atmosphere, then I think it’s worth reading. But if you prefer your stories with more closure, then you might want to skip it.