Monday, 11 July 2011

Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke

I read Inkheart.  It was good.  Very good in fact.  I'd heard that it was good, but it was one of those that I'm afraid I felt a little snobby about - all I knew of it was that it had been made into a film starring Brendan Fraser, and that small fact set me against it a little bit.  I suppose I imagined that I might end up reading something as time-wasting as California Man!  But of course, Brendan Fraser's not in the book, and the character that he played, Mortimer Folchart, did not resemble him at all, to me at any rate.

Apart from Brendan Fraser's link, I knew nothing about the story really, except perhaps something about characters from a book being read into reality.  And essentially, that was the bones of the book.  It's about books, reading them and bringing them to life.  It's a book for people who love books, and who love disappearing into them.  Each chapter begins with a quotation from another story, which is a lovely touch.  Each quotation has been carefully selected, and they really do add something to the story and to our understanding of it.  It was a joy to read these quotes, and to see that so many of my favourite books were included.  And actually, it was a good one to read after writing that hub on what constitutes a good book, because it confirmed my suspicions that our choices are our own business and never anything to be ashamed of!  We read to allow our imaginations to travel to a different place and time, and whether we go to a place of fantasy and magic, or only as far as a different country in our own world, it's all valid, all important.

Inkheart is a simple story, really not much to it at all, but it is beautifully executed.  I was gripped from the first page, by the writing initially, and then by the story itself once I got into the flow.  We're kept in the dark about just enough of the story, but not too much that we start to lose interest.  For instance, the mysterious character of Dustfinger appears at the beginning, and we don't know who he is or what he wants from Mo and Meggie.  But we can suspect that it is something to do with the book, we know that much, and that is enough.  The book I am reading at the moment, Red Gloves, just keeps me in the dark a little too much, and I find it frustrating.  Every character has a secret, and we find out that there are several secrets in quick succession; as yet no-one's telling, and I'm almost near the end of the book.  I do hope that everyone's secret will not be told all at once in a horribly contrived chapter of revelation.  On the other hand, I do hope that I will be told the secrets after putting in the effort of reading to the end!  But I'll write about that book once I've finished it, hopefully tomorrow actually.  It's not all good.

The writing in Inkheart is very ... mm, delicate I suppose.  I'm not quite sure what I mean by that, but I'm just left with a feeling of Cornelia Funke's words being gentle.  She's written the story with a lot of love, and it's a precious thing to her.  That seems strange, because there's quite a lot of thrilling suspense (as thrilling and suspenseful as it's possible for a children's book to be) and lots of descriptions about the things that Capricorn had done to his victims and those who did not submit to him.  But that is the feeling I'm left with, of a book that just flows beautifully.  There was a little bit in the middle when I felt that the pace had slowed horribly and that the story was becoming a little repetitive, but that was because I was very tired, and was only managing to read three pages before going to sleep: the fault was mine, and not Funke's!  I soon realised that I'd been mistaken in thinking that it was all going wrong.  The end was superb, and although I had seen it coming, it was satisfying to see it played out.  I wasn't entirely happy with the sudden appearance of blue fairies, but I suppose we'd had warning of them from early on, so I can't really complain.  They just seemed a little Disneyesque - and Tinkerbell certainly was, despite her being read from a book and not an animated film.  Maybe that's just me being fussy though, as the fairies in my book are so much more than just fluttery butterfly creatures that twinkle and tinkle.

I was happy to find that the character of Meggie grew throughout the book - I had found her a little whiny at the beginning, and did want her to grow up a bit and find her backbone; she did that, and it happened naturally and convincingly.

In fact, the real strength of the story is in its characters.  We hear a great deal of their thoughts, of almost everyone's thoughts.  Funke contrives reasons for each of the main characters to be alone at times when it's important for us to know what they're thinking.  Perspective changes very frequently, and at first I was alarmed by this, as a new writer myself, because I thought that we weren't supposed to do that!!  I thought we were supposed to stick to one perspective, and only have access to one person's thoughts.  Now I've seen how switching perspective can be done very skillfully, and can be used very effectively.  We know each of the main (goodie) characters very well because of this.  We don't know the baddies so well, because we never go into their minds.  This keeps them remote, and prevents us from sympathising with them because we can't know their motivation for their actions.  Red Gloves has a shifting perspective too, but it's done slightly differently, but just as effectively.  I didn't like it at first, found it too confusing; I'm used to it now, and actually think it's very cleverly executed.

So, Inkheart, very good.  It had a similar feel to  Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, but on a much smaller scale.  Meggie had some of the same kind of pluck as Lyra, although I liked Lyra immediately whereas it took me longer to take to Meggie (I think it was probably only because her name annoyed me, as I thought it was a little babyish!).

I will have to wait for quite a while to read Inkspell and Inkdeath, since they're not on my list!  Must stick to the list; don't know why, I just must ...