Saturday, September 24, 2011

Memories of a Future Life (the end)

About a month ago, I wrote about Roz's new book, My Memories of a Future Life. Well, more accurately, I wrote about Episode 1. Not Volume 1, note, Episode 1. Roz took the unusual step of releasing her novel in four instalments for Kindle, and it's only now become available as a single book.

Before I return to the format, I guess I should say something about the book. I almost feel like I should be doing a proper literary criticism, of the sort I haven't done since school: Synopsis, Themes, Characters, Style, Symbolism, Summary. That's because this feels like a proper bit of "literature". That's a word I use with some trepidation: usually "literature" means "stuff I feel like I ought to have read but probably won't actually enjoy" - whether it's modern lit or classic lit. And don't get me started on "chick lit". This isn't one of those bits of "literature", though. It's intelligent, thoughtful, and heavily character-based, yes, but it's also very easy to read and it's got a damn good story. That's because most of Roz's books are very different. She's written under a number of well-known names, including [REDACTED] and [CAN'T TELL YOU OR I'D HAVE TO KILL YOU], and she knows how to tell a rattling good yarn. She's not your usual literary novelist.

One of her other readers summed it up best - Memories is like John Fowles's The Magus. I loved that book when I was a teenager, and I'm now getting a hankering to read it again. It's the sort of literature I enjoy reading, combining a slightly unsettling plot with hints of more beyond. It's not the depressing realism of your typical Booker novelist or the light fluffiness of a slice of middle class city life.

Memories is about a pianist who can't play any more who goes to a hypnotist and starts channelling, not a past life, but a future life. Anything more would be a spoiler, so I'll stop right there. Roz's writing is some of the sharpest I've read in a while. She uses short, punchy sentences, punctuated by powerful metaphors and vivid descriptions. The result is some of the most readable prose I've come across in a while.

I will admit that after the first episode, I was slightly dubious about where it was going. I was enjoying it, but once she introduced characters who were regressing to past lives involving Jack the Ripper, there was a small part of me inwardly groaning and hoping it wasn't going to turn into some cheesy From Hell scenario. By the end of the second episode, I still wasn't much reassured. But I'm glad I stuck with it, because the end is an absolute rip-roarer. (Her husband Dave popped up on Twitter when I mentioned my concerns, and assured me I wouldn't anticipate the end. He was right. I should have known Roz wouldn't resort to cliche without good reason. She's better than that.)

Here's my one grouse. The release in instalments didn't work for me. I wanted to read the whole thing in one go. I didn't like waiting for the next episode to come out. In fact, after Episode 2, I decided to skip Episode 3 the following week and waited until the whole thing was published.

As a marketing technique, I hope it worked for Roz - self-publishing is a challenge at the best of times, and you have to do whatever you can to get attention. I certainly tweeted and facebooked about it much more than I would have done if I'd just bought the one book. But as a reading experience goes, I wish I'd waited and read it straight through. To be fair, I find the same with comics and television series - I enjoyed the anticipation of waiting for next week's Doctor Who or 2000 AD when I was a kid, but now I'd prefer to settle down for a long session whenever it's convenient for me.

However, none of this is a problem for anyone out there. It's all out now, and you can buy the complete novel for $9.99 on Kindle or $14.95 on paper. (You can still get all four episodes separately for $0.99, but not for much longer.)

So yes, I enjoyed this immensely. I'm torn between 4 and 5 stars, but that's only because I'm really, really picky when it comes to giving out 5-star ratings, and I'd have enjoyed it more without the enforced breaks in the middle. However, it's an easy four and a half. Memories is sharp, well-written, and a damn good read, and I'm looking forward to whatever Roz does next.


dirtywhitecandy said...

Gulp - Matt, thank you! Actually, I totally agree about the episode format. In these days of LoveFilm and DVD box sets I'm drivenmad by having to wait. Sorry for inflicting such frustration on you.
As a marketing plan... of course it's hard to know what would have happened if I'd released it the conventional way, but I'm sure I have managed to generate a lot more publicity for the book than if I'd had a one-shot launch. I've just recorded an interview with which will be released soon, so there will be more about it there. Afterwards if people still have unanswered questions I'll do a blog post about it.
I will tell you this, though: after four launches in four weeks I'm feeling like a wrung-out past life.

Dave Morris said...

I have to take the blame for suggesting that Roz serialize her book - which is a tad ironic, as I save my monthly comic books until a Hellboy or B.P.R.D. story is complete, and I prefer to get the boxed set of my favorite TV shows so I don't have the unbearable wait between cliffhangers.

Still, it seems that as an experiment it has worked. People have got on and started reading Future Life right away, whereas print books are often bought and left lying around the house for months. (If I'm a typical reader, that is.)

It'll be interesting to see how ebooks shift how fiction is read Will we see more short stories and novellas? More ongoing series fiction like Yesterday's Gone? A return to the gutsy lowbrow yarns of the pulp era? And perhaps at the same time there'll be more huge sprawling romans-fleuves?

An era of Burgess Shale diversity will come before the new patterns settle down. Should be interesting.

Matt Kelland said...

I certainly hope we'll see more novellas. It's not a good format for print for economic reasons, but it would work well for e-books.

Phil said...

I agree with everything you said, Matt, but have to disagree on the installment thing. I actually enjoyed that and it turned something which would have been a one off purchase/read/park sometwhere cycle into more of an event. I love episodic television, Dr Who, Fringe and more recently RCVR on and I think while you might have gripes about having to wait, sometimes delayed satisfaction intensifies the experience rather than diminishes it. It totally worked for me, but I get why you quibble about it. I tell you what though I would be up for a beautiful hardback version to park on the shelf for a few years time when I've forgotten how it ends. As the years go by that time getts shorter and shorter. :)