Monday, February 23, 2004

Just finished reading I Should Be Extremely Happy in Your Company by Brian Hall. It's a novel about Lewis and Clark, where the author used all the existing documents and historical knowledge about them and filled in the gaps himself to make a historical novel. As a historical novel, it was quite well done. It was rich in detail and didn't gloss over the misconceptions or less glamourous aspects of the era. (One of my pet peeves is historical novels that don't even mention the fact that everyone had dysentry and rarely bathed). However, it was very easy to put down. This is probably because it had to conform to known historical facts, which prevented it from having a compelling plot line. This is a good choice on the author's part - he gave the reader some credit by assuming they already knew the story (I didn't already know the story, but that's due to my own ignorance, and I knew I could have found it in 10 seconds on Google) so he focused on the process rather than forcing a phoney Hollywood movie treatment on it to give it a compelling plotline. It was the correct choice, but it did make the book easy to put down.

I was disappointed with the portrayal of Sacagawea. She suffered from "male authors who can't write women" syndrome, and the chapters written from her viewpoint showed a disappointing lack of abstract thought skills. I know she's supposed to be "savage", but I think her intellect, just based on the fact that she's a human being and has the ability to learn bits of other languages, was rather patronizingly underestimated. Her chapters were interesting though, because the author took what was known of her native language and used it to construct her way of thinking. This was extremely interesting from a linguistics perspective, but I doubt he got it right. You see, he also tried to do the same thing with Charbonneau's chapters, but instead of representing the French train of thought, he came up with a stereotyped Pythonesque caricature of a Frenchman. I suppose I'm particularly sensitive to this as a French to English translator, but French does agree its verbs and nouns and you can't represent French thought just by messing up the grammar. It would have been much better to use abstract verbs, eliminate verbed nouns, and, if that wasn't enough, use "he" and "she" instead of "it". The author's inability to carry off the Other Language train of thought in French make me doubt his ability to do so in Sacagawea's language, which made me disappointed in what I had originally thought was the most interesting part of the novel.

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