Monday, 17 August 2009

F is for Funke


Three things you should know about Cornelia Funke and Inkheart:

  1. This was translated from German
  2. She is the second bestselling children’s author in Germany, behind she-who-shall-not-be-named
  3. Inkheart is the first in a trilogy

So there you go. Number one is important because sometimes, I felt that some of the prose was a bit strange. I put number two in because I was surprised she was number two (because I didn’t think it was amazing) and I was surprised she was behind what’s her name (because Funke deserves better than that). Number three because, I found it interesting and it tells you a lot about a book before you even begin.

There is a huge tradition of fantasy novels which come in long, drawn out series. HP fans may well believe that it started with their mistress, but it started long before then. You could argue that Doyle’s The Lost World is the first in a series of fantasy books with Professor Challenger in (it has dinosaurs, it counts as fantasy) and that was written nearly one hundred years ago. Besides that, there are the more obvious choices of Lord of the Rings, Lemony Snicket, Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea, Pullman’s His Dark Materials and Garth Nix’s Sabriel/Old Kingdom. I wish sometimes that fantasy writers could write a story in one book, from beginning to end. Diana Wynne Jones does that pretty well, but most of them (let’s face it, most writers, no matter what genre it is) can’t resist a little overhang, a snippet of plot to hang onto and pull the reader into the next story. For those who like fantasy trilogies – any of the aforementioned come highly recommended, along with Marianne Curley’s Guardians of Time. As far as the little wizard and the precocious dragon riders go, I don’t recommend them.

Anyway, back to the plot. Meggie Folchart’s twelve year long life is turned upside down when a mysterious stranger turns up at her home, which she shares with her father, Mo. An adventure ensues where people and books get kidnapped and rescued, villains are met, stories unravel and so on.

Number one on the list features quite heavily in the next couple of points I have to make. I got very confused about the geography of Inkheart as quite early on in the book Meggie and Mo set out for Italy, which they claim will take about a day. Obviously my British arrogance was quickly uncovered because they don’t live in the UK, being German. Silly me.

The addition of relevant quotes from (mainly children’s) classics at the beginning of each chapter was a lovely idea, and I really enjoyed reading them and trying to guess where they were from before I read the bottom line. I also added a couple of books to my ever-increasing ‘I want to read that’ pile – TH White’s The Once and Future King being one of them. Ooh, I might read that for W.

I know it sounds daft, but I got the character names muddled in my head so I called Meggie ‘Maggie’ for 90% of the book, and Farid ‘Fraid’. I even managed to arrange Resa’s name to spell… well, you get the idea.

I realise I haven’t spoken about the story at all. Basically, Mo can read characters and objects into existence from the pages of books. The rules appear to be simple – it has to be aloud, it has to be meaningful and if a real live person appears, someone from our world disappears. A sort of less witchy The Craft type energy balance deal. Mo once read a real villain into existence, along with the mysterious stranger who first appears at the window at the beginning, and a couple of others.

One thing that bothered me was that when Mo read from Inkheart and made the fantasy characters into flesh, only one person vanished – his wife, Meggie’s mother. Perhaps I missed it, but I didn’t see a solution apart from ‘the two cats’ which don’t count later on in the book and don’t even match the total of three men and a marten.

I loved that books in Inkheart weren’t just things to do, but places to go. I know when I read a book I’m really enjoying, I actually go with the characters. I can see the Nine Lives of Island Mackenzie and Susie Salmon’s ‘heaven’ and the whole assortment of characters in Pippi Longstocking. This was literally true in Inkheart, where small boys spring to life and tin soldiers drop from the sky.

The idea is a good one, but I remembered that it’s not wholly original. Influences and influencers have always been around, which is fine, but it seemed like that was the one magickal part about the story. Characters come to life in Garth Nix’s Keys to the Kingdom trilogy and in the film of Young Sherlock Holmes (“Young Sherlock Holmes”, I believe) the stained glass window comes to life and tries to run the children through with his big sword. Remember that bit? Brilliant.

Still, I would have been more eager to read the other two books (Inkspell and Inkheart) if there was more to the story. I also felt that some of the phrases were a bit stumbly, which may be down to the translation from German. In some bits, especially the quotes at the beginning of chapters, words were even missed out which made it… interesting to read.

At the end of the book there’s an interview with Cornelia Funke, which is pretty cool as there’s quite a big section in Inkheart about how most people think that authors are dead and buried, rather than living. I reckon that was aimed at kids, in a not so subtle attempt to get them to read more and make celebrities out of the authors. I can’t remember the exact question or her answer, but Funke says that it was her daughter’s idea to put in the romance between Meggie and Farid. I had to double check on the romance, which had a couple of mentions where they look at each other. I reckon it’ll develop into something more over the next couple of books but really, could she not have fitted it in to one book?

It’s quite hefty, at nearly six hundred pages long, but I believe that Cornelia could’ve stripped about two hundred pages out of that at least. There’s a lot of repetition, and while I appreciate that you don’t want to read the same name hundreds of times, when she’s still called ‘Silvertongue’s daughter’ at page five hundred, it just looks a bit strange.

In conclusion, I probably won’t read the rest. Some parts of the book were lovely, especially the tin soldier section and the evident love of books. If I was twelve, I’d probably have loved all of them AND the film.

1 comment:

helen said...

I LOVE The Once and Future King - it's wonderful, funny (REALLY funny), desperately sad towards the end, and for a children's book it's a great read for adults aswell, the language knocks spots off HP. Enjoy!