The Etched CityThe Etched City by K.J. Bishop
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

hmmm, this book is kind of a puzzler.

it’s very well-written. our two sort of dichotomous heroes, Gwynne the lowlife and Raule of the high road, complement each other well, if sometimes a little too neatly. there is a plot, and themes, and great descriptions and poetical writing both good and over-the-top. it’s even got a couple of intellectual puzzles and a few symbolic ones. oh, plus theology and mysticism.

what more could a person ask for?

it’s even funny here and there.

but somehow it leaves me lukewarm on all fronts: the fates of its characters; the meanings of art/life/the ineffable; good and evil.

i think i would have found it more interesting if it had had less Gwynne in it. he’s the attractive character, in a sense: a gunslinger for hire, a man whose conscience flickers like a failing fluorescent tube, almost supernaturally unkillable but some how, for all that, not exactly a bad man. he’s a bad boy, to be sure, but for all of his murdering he’s not entirely an evil boy. he’s the id come to life, with some manners and a peacock coat, and if you were sure you weren’t on his list, he might be fun to invite for dinner.

his opposite number, Raule, is the superego: she attempts to work off the karmic debt she knows she has accrued, but which she cannot feel–she’s forever in search of the conscience Gwynne has so lightly discarded. but for me, her journey is the more interesting one–how does one returned from a state of benumbed-ness to a life lived consciously (not merely conscientiously) and, it is to be hoped, shot through with occasional rays of joy? but she is not the author’s interest, and her part of the tale occupies relatively little of it.

more’s the pity. i should have liked to see her thoughts on the matter.

and so… we have the Bad Boy journey, for the most part. perhaps if i dug through this book and examined its various symbolisms with a cold reptilian eye, i would see some quite astonishing geometries there. but the book leaves me feeling like a) it’s a schoolmaster, demanding an analysis, and not in a fun way; and b) like a whiny child, i don’t wanna.

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