Friday, August 12, 2005

The Queer Ache

I'm in the middle of cramming for the GRE Literature subject test, so the above title immediately sets me to thinking about queer theory (though I have only a passing familiarity with it thanks to not having been an english major in college and not having taken an intro to theory class. And now I'm thinking about my lack of preparation for grad school and the impossibility of my getting in anywhere...STOP!)

But, all LM Montgomery fans can explain what it actually refers to...and I now come to the point of this rambling introduction...that queer ache I get when I read something so beautiful and wonderful I love it for itself and wish painfully that I could have been the one to write it.

I just read Libba Bray's A Great and Terrible Beauty and its sequel, Rebel Angels. Imagine Harry Potter, but set in a late Victorian girls boarding school rather than at Hogwarts. Imagine Harry Potter, but written by an author with a lushness to her prose that is almost Victorian in its beauty and vivid imagery. Imagine a world of magic that is about exploring the boundaries of feminism, female friendship and female power. And imagine a story that is gripping, characters that are complex, contradictory and alive and relationships shown in all their maddening incomprehensibility.

The novels are technically for young adults, and they took me back to the almost mystical, transcendent experiences of reading books like Anne of Green Gables, the Chronicles of Narnia, Jackaroo or A Wrinkle In Time when I was young. I stayed up until at least 3 am for four nights in a row reading these books and even later thinking about them after I finished each. Gemma Doyle's world, her friendships with Felicity and Pippa and Ann, their quests in the realms as they discover the power that hides inside them all and then their struggles to contain that power when they're back in 1895 London...I didn't want to leave any of this after the books were finished. Thankfully, she's writing a third and final book in the series, though it won't be out for at least a year.

But my joy in these books was complicated by the fact that I wanted so much to be the person who had written them. There was a burning envy combined with my yearning for the characters and their world. And this happens more and more as I become more involved in my own writing...I either fixate on all the things I would have done differently to make a book better, or I want to weep because I didn't get a chance to write something that means as much to me as Bray's books did.

In any event, I highly recommend both novels. Now I'm off to re-read the Harry Potters, which are a much less complicated pleasure.

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