- Matheson, Richard — I Am Legend (161 pages)
- McCarthy, Cormac — No Country for Old Men (307 pages)
- Dexter, Gary — Why Not Catch 21?: The Stories Behind the Titles (213 pages)
- Ryman, Geoff — 253 (366 pages)
- Wyndham, John — The Day of the Triffids (267 pages)
- Kurkov, Andrey — Death and the Penguin (228 pages)
- Chesterton, G.K. — Orthodoxy (183 pages)
- Gibbs, Christopher H., ed. — The Cambridge Companion to Schubert (334 pages)
- Sendak, Maurice — Where the Wild Things Are (48 pages — though only 1 page will count towards my tally)
- Hurston, Zora Neale — Their Eyes Were Watching God (215 pages)
- Clarke, Arthur C. — Rendezvous With Rama (245 pages)
- Clarke, Arthur C. — The City and the Stars (246 pages)
- Chesterton, G.K. — The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare (205 pages)
- Tepper, Sheri S. — Beauty (468 pages)
Page count: 3234.
I began reading Beauty in mid December. I figured it was a retelling of the Sleeping Beauty tale and that it would make good Christmastime reading. I think keyasau3 and elgatocurioso were both amused to see me reading it, as I resisted their overtures to make it a selection during the three or so years I kept book club going. At least one person thought it was the book of the same name by Robin McKinley, of whom I'd never heard. (That Beauty is a children's book; this one most definitely is not!)
Why did it take so long to finish? Alas, a made a special effort to drop in on a gathering of T@F folk while in Boston early January, and when I left, rushing out to catch my ride to an event I was late for, I forgot the book. I posted about that, but nobody in that group seems to read my journal anymore. A day and a half later, I posted a comment in the party host's journal. Turns out she did have it and was wondering whose it was. I didn't get this message till Tuesday afternoon, and my flight left Boston Tuesday night. She lives five minutes from my hosts, Bri and JC, but wasn't able to get it to me before I left, and when I suggested to Bri that we swing by to get the book on the way to the airport he insisted we didn't have time and that he would mail it to me. He never did. Twice I had a friend in Boston coming to London, and twice he failed to get it to her, though she lives only ten minutes from him. Meanwhile, I could not find a copy in the UK, search as I might try.
I was only 80 or so pages from the end of a nearly-500-page book, and I wanted to finish it while it was still (fairly) fresh in my mind. When Bri missed my friend's second visit to Boston, I got on the horn to JC. In stark contrast, he doesn't promise much but delivers when he does. I got my book last week and immediately set aside the other books I had been reading.
My memory wasn't as bad as I'd feared, but I did have to flip back to earlier sections a couple of times. I seemed to remember plot elements just fine, but some of the backstory and other essential incidentals had slipped away. Naturally, the story felt more disjointed that ought to have been the case. However, this isn't entirely due to the long gap in my reading.
Beauty tells the story of the daughter of the Duke of Westfaire, supposedly as set down in her diary. She is half faerie and half human, and her faerie mother vanished suddenly when Beauty was an infant. Beauty had been cursed to fall into a deep eternal sleep, but through ingenuity and luck she avoided it. (Beloved, her almost-identical half sister, and the rest of Westfaire succumbed to the curse meant for Beauty.)
At this point things take a very unexpected turn (though perhaps not so unexpected if I had read the backflap carefully), as Beauty is kidnapped by time travellers from the 22nd century who are filming a documentary on the vanishing of magic from the world. After a brief time in a very dystopic future, she convinces her kidnappers to escape this bleak future and go as far back in time as an unauthorized trip can take them, the late 20th century. (Which makes them fugitives from their own world and stuck in time.) After a few years there, Beauty discovers that there is just enough magic left in the world to get back to her time a few years at a time.
The story takes another couple of turns and the two main story arcs are established. One arc involves a retelling of other fairy tales, of which Beauty, armed with a knowledge of Disney, Grimm, et al., plays an ironic but pivotal part. Another takes Beauty into faerie and other non-human realms, where she meets all sorts of fabulous creatures and learns about her purpose in life. While the first arc could be considered gravy, the second is the meat and potatoes. The fairy tale retellings are cute, humourous, "Charming"—and they give insight into the process in which myths and legends might be based on real events, however remote—but ultimately they're inconsequential time-filler to allow events in the other story arc to move along. The second arc concerns itself with the fate of faerie and mankind, covenants with God, the devil and his hell, and how all this and all Creation fit together.
Beauty is a very interesting story. However, the frequent jumps between times and worlds and the separate story arcs made it feel a bit chopped up. I have one major complaint, though, which I have voiced to several friends. Occasionally the story is further broken up so that Tepper can use Beauty's voice to air her own views on politics, feminism, the environment, religion, and any number of issues she clearly feels very strongly about. I have no problem with novelists using their stories as platforms for their views, but I feel the ideological expressions should be integrated into the story. One of my favorite authors, Le Guin, bars no holds in expressing her strong views on many of these same issues, but she does so seamlessly and tells some of the best stories in print. Tepper tells a good story but then interrupts it to let us know how she feels about an issue. In the end, I feel this watered down the ending a bit as well.
Still, despite it's flaws, I think it is a decent story and worth reading. Just get used to the idea that Beauty is really Tepper making a statement, sometimes more and sometimes less metaphorical, about the world, and it all more-or-less works.