Monday, August 2, 2010

Deep Secret

Join me in celebrating Diana Wynne Jones, 1 - 7 August!

Probably because I read the Chrestomanci stories when my children were younger, I had the impression that Diana Wynne Jones was a children's author, so when Jenny proposed Diana Wynne Jones week, I decided to read the only DWJ novel that I could find in the adult section of my public library, Deep Secret.

After six chapters (75 pages) of narration by a male character, Rupert, the narrative switches to a chapter from a female character, Maree, whose chapters then begin to alternate with Rupert's more frequently until you can tell they're going to fall in love, despite the way they seem to hate each other at first (it reminds me of Zoe's first reaction to Wash in the Firefly episode entitled Out of Gas: "he bothers me; I don't know what it is").

I enjoyed the way characters who didn't seem all that important to Rupert--who is a Magid, a sort of Magician/Benevolent Policeman for the universe--became vastly important in the plot, reinforcing the idea that despite his vast powers, there is a bigger and even more powerful planner behind his whole adventure. And I was greatly amused by the way Rupert's mentor, now disembodied, haunts a parking lot, with inexplicable strains of Scarlatti coming out of the invisible car to which he's confined. An incidental delight is the off-hand way a teenage boy sums up the things in which his mother has been deeply interested: "she kept wanting to tell me until I said it was all boring nonsense and went away." (If this doesn't delight you, my guess is that you've never been the mother of a fourteen-year old boy.)

The deep secrets of the title turn out to be hidden in an interesting way:
"Some of them are things you more or less know anyway. If I were to tell you some, you might laugh--I know I did--because a lot of the secrets are half there in well-known or childish things, like nursery rhymes or fairy stories. I kid you not! One of our jobs is to put those things around and make sure they're well enough known for people to put them together in the right way when the time comes. Or again...some of the secrets are only in parts. These are the dangerous secrets. I've got the memorized parts of at least seventy of them. If another Magid has need of my piece of a secret, he or she can come and ask me, and if the need is real enough, then I put my part together with his or hers. It acts as a check."

The pacing of the story is masterful; the secrets are revealed one by one in a very satisfying manner. I'm still not sure that that Diana Wynne Jones writes for adults--this book has a centaur on the cover, which may not have been her choice, but it does accurately illustrate some of the scenes from the novel.

Why even think about what kind of audience a novel is aimed at? It's something I think about with fantasy novels--is Fantasy by its very nature (a way to step outside yourself and see the world differently) a genre mostly for children and young adults--that is, for people whose views of the world are growing and changing at a very fast pace?


Ana S. said...

I need to get my hands on this, especially because I have the sequel and can't read it without reading Deep Secret first.

Maybe one of the reasons why I feel so at home with fantasy is because I can't imagine my view of the world ever becoming static. I know this is often associated with immaturity, but I think there's a bit more to it than that.

Fiona said...

I'm not actually a great fan of fantasy, though I do really want to get more into it. It's just that I don't like big, long series (bad experiences) so I should I suppose gather some recommendations for trilogies or stand alones.

I think with DWJ - I don't think she sits down and decides she's going to write for so and so audience. And the sequel to Deep Secret (which I read) is definitely mid-YA whereas Deep Secret is evidently more older YA to adult.

I think DWJ just isn't an author that can be pigeonholed. Maybe that's why her books are going out of print because they can't be stuffed in one shelf so maybe she isn't that marketable.

I think she appeals to people from 10 to 100 because her books never... really age. Some children's books, or younger YA or even older YA just lose their enjoyability as the years go on. Whereas some are still enjoyable to me now, fantasy or not.

Harriet M. Welsch said...

I do think (as I suspect you do too) that the question of audience is an important one. And I also think you're right that the primary audience of fantasy skews young. That said, as a pleasure reader, I don't tend to think about either of those things much. Although I've made some attempt to sort our hefty book collection by genre, children's books did not get their own section. They are thoroughly mixed with adult novels (save for the books in my son's room) because that is how I am likely to read them. Fantasy is something I read a lot as a pre-teen, but no much since. Tolkein, Susan Cooper, Anne McCaffrey, Ursula Le Guin and Patricia McKillip are all represented on our shelves, although my favorite of the genre was Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn. I've been meaning to reread the latter because it loomed so large on my childhood, but I've been having trouble getting myself to do it because the fantasy genre is just not one that appeals to me much anymore. That's also the reason I have not yet read any books by Wynne Jones, which have been recommended to me many times by many different people, but only after I passed the age where such books inherently appealed to me.

Amanda said...

Seeing these posts everywhere makes me really wish I could participate. I've never read any of her books.

Betty (Beth) said...

A professor assigned this book to us in my SciFi/Fantasy class in college and I've been in love with DWJ ever since. :-)

This was also the book that made me want to go to a Science Fiction/Fantasy Convention, which I still have yet to do (but I should).

edj3 said...

I still don't care for fantasy, mostly because it always seems as though the author is somehow cheating by taking the easy way out-oh a magic word is discovered, or a unicorn comes by farting out pink glitter and saves the world!

Yes, that's a bit of an exaggeration but that's how fantasy seems to me. Give me science fiction any day :-)

PS I feel that way even about Iain Banks' fantasy, Jeanne. I'm an equal opportunity disliker.

Trapunto said...

Ha, yes, how Nick "managed" his mother! I may review this one too if I have time. I read it a couple of months ago. I love the witchy dance!

Strangely, I think you might find (I do) that some of Jones books' that are nominally her younger ones (Like Fiona, Deep Secret Seems to me to be marketed as older YA), have more going on in them, thematically, in a way that appeals to adults.

[Looking nervously over my shoulder wondering if Jenny is creeping with a blunt object.] "Oh! Hi, Jenny!"

Speaking of which, have you read Jenny's older review of this one? She had some hilarious things to say about the bowdlerized American edition.

Jenny said...

*does not have blunt object* (If I did have a blunt object, I would not use it to hit trapunto.)

I think one of the reasons I'm fond of Deep Secret is that it's got so many small things in it that please me utterly (the witchy dance, the Babylon rhyme, the panel with everyone fighting). Diana Wynne Jones has remained a favorite author of mine into adulthood for exactly this reason, the way her books have this little bits of everyday-life truths (like Nick being bored by his mother's stuff). A lot of that passed me by when I was younger, and it's a delight to rediscover it now.

Bookwyrme said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bookwyrme said...

Funny. The library here shelves Deep Secret in with the YA books but puts A Sudden Wild Magic in the Adult section & most of the other DWJ's in Children's. Then again, most of my favorite authors are all over the place in libraries and book stores.

Karen K. said...

I haven't read this one but now I am intrigued. Half the copies at my library are shelved with the YA and half in the adult SF. Interesting. Oddly enough, I tend to like children's fantasy much more than adult -- maybe because I prefer low fantasy. High fantasy gets so complicated, remembering all the made-up vocabulary. Also, the names are sometimes so silly with random apostrophes, etc., and I just don't have the patience.

Jeanne said...

Nymeth, I agree that there's a bit more to it than that...but haven't quite been able to articulate what that "more" is.

Fiona, surely you're right that DWJ doesn't visualize an age group as audience when she writes. From what I've read, many good writers say they tell the story they have to tell, and it's publishers who decide to market it for a certain age group. Some authors say they have to work harder on books for kids than they do on books for adults.

Harriet, We keep our children's books together, mostly, but there's a big gray area now with the YA books. I'm always amused at the public library when I find something like Little Women shelved in the YA section. I do think that many people who love fantasy as young adults read less of it as they get older, but I'm not sure why. There are people who won't read anything they suspect is for younger readers, but you and I (especially me) aren't making that kind of artificial distinction.

Amanda, You could start with a Chrestomanci story; I did.

Betty, a few years ago I taught a SF book in a college class, and the students in the class asked if I went to SF conventions--they had the idea that anyone who reads that kind of stuff goes to those conventions! Let me know what you think if you ever do go.

Elizabeth, I think only lesser fantasy "cheats." Good fantasy worlds have their own rules. But as Karenlibrarian points out, some fantasy worlds get pretty "baroque" in the level of detail. There's a middle point where I enjoy it.

Trapunto, this week I'm finding out how random the shelving of various DWJ titles is in different libraries! I did read Jenny's review and loved it.

Jenny, yes, "everyday life truths" is a pretty good phrase for the bits I like.

Bookwyrme, I guess I need to pay less attention to where books are shelved!

Karenlibrarian, I think there's some good fantasy that uses the world the author has created more than merely referring to it (Paolini strikes me as a writer who refers). Have you ever seen the xkcd comic that came out about the same time as Stephenson's Anathem? It's called "Fiction rule of thumb"

Jeanne said...

Here's the xkcd:

Charlotte said...

Now I am wanting rather badly to re-read this myself...would that there were fewer books in my tbr pile!