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bear by san

March 2017



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bear by san

via Miss Snark, another agent blog: the very entertaining Pub Rants.

52-book challenge, #14: Barry Hughart, Bridge of Birds

I have mixed emotions about this book. It's beautifully written and entertaining and there are some lovely pithy witticisms ("Our first order of business will be to find a deranged alchemist, which should not be very difficult. China [...] is overstocked with deranged alchemists.") but I don't engage with it. It has no emotional immediacy for me, and I think that's a visceral reaction to the slapstick and the breeziness and the broadness of the farce. These aren't bad things, mind you--they're conventions that the author is choosing to use, and using well--but they're conventions I don't particularly care for.

Essentially, while I sort of enjoy much of the book and greatly enjoy parts of it, the slapstick annoys me and I fail to engage and invest in it. I'm not committed to this book. Its nice enough, in other words, but I fail to love it, and sometimes I find myself crowing with delight at bits and pieces, including some of the tidy ways the story comes together and the ways the author picks up threads and weaves them back in, and I find myself occasionally pausing to roll my eyes at the narrative.

So, I am torn.


Have you read any of Ernest Bramah's Kai Lung stories? (My rough write-up on those appears here). I think Hughart was deliberately writing in the vein of Bramah, emphasizing style and humor over emotional substance.

That said, I think there are several moments in Bridge of Birds which do have emotional content; the chapter with the ghost of the sword dancer, and the way in which Li Kao and Number Ten Ox help break the curse she's under and reunite her with her one true love, gets me every time.

But chacun a son gout, etc.
this book slays me, i love it.. The part when the crazed alchemist realizes that all he has to do is to die to regain his wife and daughter is pretty pointed.. I wonder how much of the humor/burlesque/sadness is taken from Classical Chinese Literature. Cordwainer Smith was much taken by Chinese Literature, and his stuff revels in mixed emotions...

Bridge of birds gets me a little misty, even as a male pattern grump-ass.
I found it (Bridge of Birds) lyrical. As for caring for the characters and what happened to them, though -- it's a lot like reading a fairytale or a legend. No attachment.

I think I enjoyed it because it's exactly the kind of book I would probably never write.

True story: the only reason I read that book is because somewhere, there is a really outstanding filk about it, and I wanted to know the source material that inspired the filker. I can't remember the song or who sang it, I just remember loving it when I heard it.
The one to the tune from Man of La Mancha? It's by Lee Gold, though I don't remember the title.

Unfortunately, it will never be recorded (for money and wide distribution), because the composer's lawyers think it stinks and refuse to license it, and it's not enough of a 'comment' on the original for Acuff-Rose to cover it.
I have a similar reaction. I love the book...but I don't, for instance, re-read it anywhere near as often as I do books that engage me emotionally. Part of my enjoyment of it, actually, is pure bemusement that I like it at all, since generally I hate farces. I think it's because it's not mean that I can like this one - the same reason I'm able to love Terry Pratchett.

I'll be interested to hear your reactions if you read the two books that come after Bridge of Birds. They are nowhere near as slapstick. They dig in more, have more to tell in the way of character and story. In some ways I don't think they're as good, because Bridge of Birds is exquisitely, *perfectly* what it is, while the other two are more humanly flawed...but they're flawed efforts at a kind of story I appreciate more than the kind of story Bridge is a perfect one of.

I have tortured my syntax long enough. I go.
...I return briefly:

I can't help but imagine that Bridge of Birds would be a *fabulous* thing to read aloud.
I love, love, love this book. I found the moments of poignancy even more effective because of the humor surrounding them. It's like an arrow out of the dark, and I always end up bawling.
I remember enjoying that book, but agree that it wasn't particularly "deep." Is deep necessary?
I don't think I said anything about its depth. (Actually, I think it's pretty layered, and has some fair complexity.)

I just don't like slapstick.

Coincidence of the week...

I *just* finished (re)reading Bridge of Birds, and just as I came back to the computer to write a quick description, up comes your entry. I wrote mine first, and then came back here to see what you had thought of it.

Re: Coincidence of the week...

*g* I like your description.
If you like, I'll dig up the link to the original manuscript, which is online, and has some strong differences from the published final. It's told from a different POV in the original, and so some of the pathos is actually rather different. If anything, though, there may be more slapstick.

I'm with you: I just don't have that kind of sense of humor, and while there are beautiful word-toys and lovely imagery and so on, and I do tear up at the pretty ending, it doesn't stick in my heart. I'd have hammered on the tragic aspects more, had it been my story.
Yeah, more or less what you said. I'm not in love with it enough to want to read another version, though.
I think the reason I love Bridge of Birds so much is that I read Journey to the West as a kid. To me, they feel like the same genre, like they're written in the same style.

I'd be interested to know how you felt about Journey to the West if you ever got a chance to read it. It's one of those books I think everyone should read -- not because I think everyone will love it, but because I personally would be fascinated to hear how other people react to it, love it or hate it.
I haven't read it, alas.