The view from my reading pile.

Desideria, by Nicole Kornher-Stace September 1, 2009

Filed under: book review — stackscene @ 8:30 pm
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**Disclaimer**: The author of the work being discussed today is a personal friend of mine. I like reading things my friends write, but can’t possibly pretend to be objective about the work. I do think, however, that I can give enough of an idea of the book that a reader should be able to make a decision as to whether or not they would like to read the book.

I met Nicole Kornher-Stace at Readercon this year, and almost immediately fell in love with her words. I say this because she is the featured poet in the Summer issue of the online poetry magazine Goblin Fruit, and I got to hear her read one of the poems from the feature, The Changeling Always Wins. I love poetry that has a sense of humor, and this piece in particular is dark and twisted and a little creepy, but also very, very funny. To cross-promote my own stuff for a second, if you’re interested in finding out more about Nicole’s poetry and Goblin Fruit, I just did an interview with the editors of the publication on my podcast, We Have Thumbs.

The upshot of all of this was that I liked Miss Kornher-Stace, I liked her work, and she had a new novel, her first, being sold in the dealer’s room at the con. So I grabbed a copy of Desideria (Amazon links for illustration, please support your local retailers when possible) and tossed it on one of the book stacks. I recently got around to reading it, and finished it last night, so I’m trying to get a review written before I lose any of the dreaminess of this book.

Dreaminess isn’t the right word. That implies something sort of soft and pretty, and this book is gorgeous, but not pretty. I’ve mentioned that Kornher-Stace is a poet, and that definitely comes across in her prose. The opening line of the prologue is such a well-turned, brain-snagging phrase that I literally read the line several times, savoring the imagery, before I could move on to the rest. “At first she does not know just how or why the lamp is in her hand, its glass and brass and fern-curled fire;” the sentence continues, but it takes a bit more time for the dream-like images to begin to resolve into a character and story. That story is about Ange St. Loup, the woman holding the lamp, who is an actress in a theatre. Ange is known as a brilliant actress, but what only her fellow actors know is that she’s prone to getting a little *too* into character. Think method acting taken to a dangerous extreme. (Note: the story-bits I’m about to divulge are found out fairly early on and thus I do not consider them to be spoilery) Somehow, Ange has fallen down into one of her characters, and accidentally starts a fire in the theatre, and is taken to an insane asylum after jumping out the window. The story that follows cuts between Ange’s surfacing memories of her time in the theatre and her present reality of the asylum of Amaranth. It’s often difficult to decide what is real, and that only gets harder as the book continues and the machinations of some of the supporting characters are made clear. On the subject of those characters, one of my very minor complaints about the book is that I felt like it took a really long time to get a good handle on the rather large cast. I admit however, that this is partially a personal failure, and possibly the result of reading when tired. After finished the book though, I thought about it some more and actually think it suits the structure of the book. After all, we’re meeting these characters through Ange’s memories, and the memories start out vague and become more focused as she regains her sense of self, so allowing the characters to sharpen in focus as the book progresses feels right to me.

Be warned, this is not a happy book, and has elements of abuse and other possibly triggering elements. The ending is good and solid, although disappointing in a very personal way that I’m not sure I can talk about without spoilers, but it all makes sense and does give resolution. I loved this book, but don’t go into it expecting anything light or sweet, or an ending that reinstates the status quo.

If you’re interested in trying out some of Kornher-Stace’s other works before committing to a novel, she has a short story up at Fantasy Magazine, as well as the poetry already mentioned at Goblin Fruit.

Spoilers and more discussion behind the jump. (more…)