Friday, 13 March 2009

Owned by Vellum...

After reading - and really liking, despite not really understanding - Hal Duncan's short story The Prince of End Times in the Solaris Book of New Fantasy, I figured I'd give his debut novel Vellum a go.

After just under 200 pages, I've finally thrown in the towel. Vellum was just too much for me, I couldn't handle it. Normally I'll put a book down because it's boring, badly written, or just failing to grab me for whatever reason. This wasn't the case with Vellum.

I loved the premise of the novel. I loved the prose. And I liked the segments of the story where I had some rough idea of what was happening. But I just couldn't keep up with the narrative, which leaps backwards and forwards in time, and weaves between different worlds. A character will die in one chapter, then they'll be alive in the next one because it's set earlier in the timeline. Then they'll be dead again but in a different world, and you're not sure whether it's the same character (but in a different world and in an earlier/later time) or whether it's a different incarnation of that character, whose fate is not linked to the other, does that even make sense? Maybe now you can see why I couldn't keep up with this novel. OMG BRAIN MELTDOWN.

Seriously though, I just couldn't handle it. I'm quite happy to go with the flow for a while when I'm not quite understanding what's happening, but eventually I get to a point where I just can't go on.

Funnily enough, I was annoyed at having to put Vellum down: I really didn't want to. Perhaps I'll give it another go sometime, as there's some terrific (and crazy) stuff in there, not to mention some excellent writing.

For the moment though, Vellum > me :(


T.D. Newton said...

That's how I felt about GOTM. I'll circle back around at some point but the first attempt went way over my head. Hard to read what you don't understand.

kirrmistwelder said...

I tried to read Vellum and failed at around the exact same spot you did. I just felt like it was WAY over my head. I wanted to like it, but I just wasn't enjoying it - and that's not why I read.

James said...

TD: I know what you mean about GOTM, plenty of folk find that one a tough read. While I wasn't totally sure what was going on all the time in GOTM, I knew enough to keep going...and I'm glad I did, because it's a brilliant novel.

Kirrmistwelder: That's it at the end of the day - if you're not enjoying something, there's rarely any point in continuing. And as much as I liked some of the stuff in Vellum, there wasn't enough for me to cling to.

gav ( said...

Just had to check - book mark is in page 316.

I was really really trying to keep going but there are layers and layers and layers - and the echoes just weren't enough. I kept loosing what was happening to who and why...

Oh BTW, what's GOTM?

T.D. Newton said...

Gardens of the Moon (Erikson)

Neth said...

I finished it a few years ago - I thought it was great, but I can certainly understand what others are saying here. I think the best way to think of it is that while I loved the book, I haven't been in a hurry to read its sequel either.

One of the better analogies I've heard is that it reads like Duncan took a perfectly ordered narrative and shuffled it 4 or 5 times and then through the results together.

For those that like the writing but just couldn't get into it, I highly recommend his lates novella - Escape From Hell!. It is all kinds of awesome.

Adam Whitehead said...

I'm left feeling tired and shattered just from reading one of his blog posts. He makes a point, then backs off, goes round the houses again and then comes back making exactly the same point from a different angle, then three paragraphs later will revisit the same point. In depth.

It's left me with no immediate desire to read any of his books.

The word verification for this entry is 'terse', amusingly enough.

Neth said...


I agree about his blog posts - I'm not sure I've ever read an entire post.

But, his writing is worlds different (though the same attitude is often present).

James said...

Yeah, Duncan's blog is crazy - he writes like a PHD thesis for almost every entry. I don't think I've ever read an entire one of his posts either!

Swainson said...

Are his books a bit like reading four blogging reviewers making the same point??!!

verification "pacepat"

James said...

"Are his books a bit like reading four blogging reviewers making the same point??!!"

More like reading several academics making the same points, whilst on acid.

Swainson said...

Now that's given me a great imaginary flash of the Engineering department at KCL on acid. Not pretty.

Yep he's one far out man, or would that be mon.

I am glad to hear from Neth that Escape From Hell is worth a read.

Aidan Moher said...

After reading The Prince of End Times, I resolved to never pick up another Hal Duncan story.

So far, so good.

I'm convinced that people who like Duncan are just fooling themselves into thinking they're sophisticated.

A Dribble of Ink

Iain said...

Oh Hal Duncan! How his blog has melted my mind. I am quite a big fan of Battlestar Galactica and upon seeing that he wrote an article it I thought I would give it a read. Boy can he cogitate! Kind of scared me off reading any of his books. In fact, it left me wondering how he had any time to write books if his blog posts are novellas in themselves.

Surely it marks him out as some kind of genius.

Trin said...

I'm also stuck ... bookmark at pg. 155, and I'm already wondering whether I should try and read some more or just give up. I really don't like to put books down before I finish them, but I have some books waiting for me (Drood, Midwinter, Territory, Thunderer, Black Man) and I'm fairly sure they'll make an easier read :D

James said...

Aidan: From far away, I can hear the chatter of keyboards as dozens of Hal Duncan fans frantically type a barbed response to your comment... ;)

Seriously though, I'm a pretty intelligent guy...and I just couldn't handle Vellum at all. How anyone without prior knowledge of the book could read and understand what was happening, is beyond me. Maybe you're not meant to understand it...hell, maybe even Hal Duncan doesn't understand it!

Iain: He quite possibly is some sort of genius. He's also probably completely nuts. ;)

Trin: Some nice books there on your pile!