Tuesday, 6 March 2012

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

For the opening sentences of this novel alone, I am jealous of Patrick Rothfuss.  I couldn’t even tell you why, exactly, that it gripped me so thoroughly; why it sent a little shiver of delight down my spine.  It goes as follows:

‘It was night again.  The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.’

Examples of a wonderful use of language are present through The Name of the Wind, and while I could easily quote you some here, I won’t because they need to be experienced in the context of the story.

The story itself is a strange thing.  Not that it’s difficult to follow or too far outside the realms of believability.  The narrative occurs in two time streams but the transitions are easily recognised and I was never confused as to what time I was in.  The action is well-written and exciting; the conversation is engaging and natural.  So what is it that makes me call it ‘strange’?

Looking back on the story, it feels as if not a great deal actually happened (considering the size of the book at least) and yet never once do I remember feeling bored while reading it.  The size of the book, the tone of the language, the not-quite-a-blurb on the back, even the front cover (here ignoring a certain saying about books and covers)… all of this combined makes it seem like this story should be an epic.  And it isn’t.

Not yet anyway.

That’s another thing that feels a little odd.  At the end of the book, the story just stops.  I know there’s going to be a sequel – have known it since shortly after starting it – but all the same I’ve never read a book which leaves so much without conclusion.  It isn’t even that it left us on a dramatic cliffhanger.  It’s simply feels like this trilogy (as it will eventually be) should be read as once continuous work, and the author simply stopped at whatever point he felt like.

The lack of epic-like action makes me think that this is a much more character-driven novel than most in this genre tend to be.  The events we’ve had so far serve the purpose of shaping the main character into the person he will one day be.  This we see in many novels – particularly fantasy – so that the protagonist will be able to rise to the inevitable challenge and defeat the big bad.  This is what I expected to happen in The Name of the Wind – except the big bad hasn’t yet arrived.  Or at least the confrontation with it hasn’t.

I can’t quite decide whether these observations about the novel are criticisms or not.  The standard of the writing has allowed me to forgive many things that might have irritated me in a less well-written book.  I feel like I should recommend this book for the writing alone, despite the fact that it took me almost a month to get through it.  Yes it is a bit of a monster (662 pages) but I’ve read longer books in less time.

I think part of the reason why I so frequently put it down was that the protagonist (Kvothe) kept doing things which he knew to be stupid and which would inevitably get him in trouble, with the risk of ruining his life, but he persisted in doing them anyway.  And yet he is intelligent, kind-hearted and brave, so surely we can forgive him this just as I forgive Rothfuss for his strange ending?

My ultimate test for many of these books I’ve been reviewing seems to be about the sequel.  Do I want to read it?  Sure.  Do I want to read it RIGHT NOW?  No.  I’ll get to it one day, but I’m not desperate for it.

But I did start reading the beginning again.  So is that one thumb up and one sort of wavering in the middle?

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