Sunday, September 25, 2005

50 Book Challenge #50: Water Music

Before one gets to the text of Water Music, one encounters an apologia from the author admitting to anachronism, invented languages, and wholesale reshaping of historical fact. As someone who read historical fiction in part to learn about the past, I should have been disgruntled. But previous experience with Boyle has taught me to appreciate his propensity to use fact as a jumping off point for rollicking flights of fancy, so I read on.

And such a journey! The narrative alternates between the travails of one Mungo Park, youthful Scottish explorer of the Niger; his fiancee Ailie, a reluctant Penelope with a penchant for microbiology; and Ned Rise, product of the gin-soaked London gutter and thrice-over recipient of an astonishing resurrection. All are engagingly drawn, although at no time did I feel emotional engagement with them. Water Music is a rather superficial entertainment, but it's well written and neatly plotted, with nearly every thread pulled together at the book's conclusion, a dramatic confrontation at the rapids of the Niger and a brief coda that feints at starting the whole cycle again and then brings the boot of reality down firmly on the neck of such fantasies.

If you enjoyed Stephenson's Baroque Cycle but found his tendency to stuff in massive chunks of exposition about finance boggy going, Water Music may appeal to you.

For those of you who have been keeping up, this should mark the end of the 50 Book Challenge. However, I will undoubtedly read quite a few more books before year's end, what with the Clerksville library being so well stocked and the prospect of plane rides and dull hotel rooms in my future. I have resolved, therefore, to continue to document any new books I read in their entirety in the same manner and see if I can get to 100 by the new year. Wish me luck!
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