Monday, June 29, 2009

Before They Are Hanged Commentary

6/29/09 pg 387. I started this book and then got quickly caught up in the pace of it. It moved too fast for me to take a moment to write about it. I really didn't want to tear myself away from the page to stop and think. But with over half the book done now I have to stop and catch my breath and write something otherwise I miss out on the whole experience.

First off I have realized something. Joe Abercrombie is the Quentin Tarentino of fantasy. Or, for my fellow English Majors out there, the John Ford. Im sure this is conscious on his part. He has spoken of Tarentino's films informing and contributing to his work and overall outlook on life. His work, like Tarentino's, definitely has overtones of the moral ambiguity inherent in violent acts and a violent life. A character like Logan is never really sure of the effects of his violent lifestyle on his own life or the lives of those he has been around. He is not proud of what he is, but then again, he is not entirely ashamed. His toughness and hard outlook on a hard world has made him able to help the likes of Jezal and Ferro, so he cant be categorized as simply good or bad.

This poses a bit of a problem for me because I don’t really like Tarentino's films. With the exception of Reservoir Dogs which, with its long shots, fuck you dialouge, and complete and total oh no you didn't plot twists, made me take notice that something truly different had appeared on screen. Pulp fiction, which was praised for its fragmentation of chronology to emphasize the arbitrariness of modern existence and violence (havent any of you people read Faulkner?) didn’t strike me as a comment on gratuitous violence as really just being gratuitous violence.

Kill bill 1 and 2 were…well, still more gratuitious violence.

But Before They Are Hanged takes our characters even deeper into the moral no man's land that rules their world. I said in my end notes last time that I was impressed by how much the characters had changed through the course of the book and I was pleased to see that the changes are still in effect. Jezal, though still whiny and self centered in the beginning of the story, does at least retain the ability to empathize. Glotka more than ever asks himself why he does what he does and recieves less and less assurances from the dark corners of his mind as to his motivations. All of which prompts him to commit some serious faux pas in the torturing world(I'm quite sure if there were a torturer's handbook rule number 1 would be "don’t let anyone escape on purpose").

Logan is sick of violence and fighting for the sake of fighting. He wants to find a reason to go on beyond just fighting to survive. Ferro still just wants to kill people.

What really impressed me thus far though is the way Abercrombie builds on the growth in book one and makes the characters continue to grow in self knowledge. Its almost as if he were saying look, avoiding violence may just not be possible in the real world, but avoiding self knowledge is an even worse fate than violence. Violence, and the threat of violence may be bad, but it has this quality of making what's important in the world leap out.

And understanding leaps out at the major characters with a viciousness. For Jezal it takes the form of a mace to the side of the jaw and some broken limbs. (I was impressed here with Abercrombie's technical knowledge. A medieval soldier wielding a mace would have struck his downed opponent a few more times and inflicting further injuries like those described to Jezal).

The merry band of adventurers are heading for a city in the middle of nowhere. Mostly they all hate each other at the start and through much violence and several attacks they learn much about their fellow adventurers and acquire a measure of respect about each of them. Though they primarily still hate each other.

At this point in the novel Logan and Ferro have fallen into a pit, Jezal's face is healing nicely(for nicely read his jaw and mouth are at a weird angle and he looks f'd up), Bayaz is withering away, Glotka is trying to escape a city he was sworn to defend(and signed his life away for). and the dogman and his crew are trying to protect major west who has just committed a treasonous act.

There was a well done battle scene earlier in the book which conveyed the sense of futility as the untrained troops of the union fought against Bethod's barbarians(sound's like a football team name). Abercrombie did an ok job of describing the noise and confusion of war but not as well done as say Suzanna Clarke did describing a battle in Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell. Still impressive though. In the Clarke book I had a palpable sense of dread as I read the battle scene. It made me squeamish(much like the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan). In the Abercrombie book the battle scene was more of pathos and loss at the wastefulness.

One hundred plus pages to go.

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