Book of the New Sun

Pedro Del Mar

I am content
Mar 18, 2010
Darwen Tower
Started this a couple of nights ago and finding it quite unusual. I'm quite widely read and have a degree in English so I'm capable of dealing with the text.

My question/quandary - it's unlike most other literature I've read over the last few years which has been a combination of fantasy, horror, war novels, sci-fi etc, and the author seems to be throwing in his own made up words every now and again - does this continue throughout the novel? The one novel I've read recently which I think comes closest is Anathem by Neal Stephenson (which I enjoyed but took some concentrating!).

It obviously comes highly recommended in terms of the awards it's won - I'm just wondering does it improve because I feel like I'm forcing myself through it at the moment. There's been a good scene in a graveyard which was entertaining and laid a few seeds, which I read the night before last. Last night I read for a while but today I can't recall what I read last night - and I hadn't touched a drop before you ask!

Does it get any easier? Is it worth carrying on with?
Yes, the obscure, obsolete and made up words do continue, and for me got too much at times, and I speak as one who loves finding and reading odd and archaic words and expressions.

I had much the same reaction as you to the beginning of book one. Here are my thoughts from reading the first two books (they came in an omnibus edition):

It took me a good while to get into [The Shadow of the Torturer}, and although the world-building may be brilliant I can't help wishing he'd cut to the bloody chase rather more quickly – towards the end he even has the audacity to have the narrator speak to the reader, justifying why he goes off into lengthy, possibly irrelevant, digessions. I found the justification, like the rest of the book, long on words and short on everything else.

I found [The Claw of the Conciliator] even less penetrable than the first book, with characters saying and doing things which I couldn't understand even on a second and third read of the passage, and I had to skip one entire chapter which consisted of a re-creation of a play-script which to me was wholly unintelligible. Some lovely phrases, some arresting ideas, but not enough to make me want to read on when I really couldn't care about any of the characters, especially not the first person narrator. Disappointing.

I dare say Stephen Palmer will be here shortly to encourage you to continue, as he loves the books, and I recall Victoria Silverwolf thinks highly of them, too, but if you're not impressed so far, I don't think they are likely to grow on you.
Thanks Judge, appreciate you taking the time to respond and give me your thoughts. By what I've read so far I think I'm inclined to agree that it isn't going to grow on me. I'll give it another shot tonight and if I can't get into it I'll drop it for something more interesting, I've plenty waiting on the shelves
Gave it 2 more shots! Last night I read a chapter where Severian finds a dog. Then loses it. Then meets a woman. Then goes home. Then I gave up.

Very, very rarely have I given up on a book and it's a shame because I was looking forward to Book of The New Sun but it's not for my taste.

Started Guy Gavriel Kay's Finovar Tapestry instead
Hmmmm, thanks for sharing, crooks. I've only read one book by GW... Pirate Freedom. Two friends gave me some advice on how to keep going upon first contact with GW. They both said that he always writes in the first person. What this means is that the reader is at the mercy of the perspective of the main character. You only know what he knows. You only understand how he understands. You only remember what he chooses to remember.

Over the course of the Pirate Freedom, I began to question the narrator's story. Was he serious? Was he delusional? Was he telling the truth? Was he naive or insane? Did he actually hear God's voice? Was he a saint or was he condemned to hell? My understanding is that Gene Wolfe likes to put his readers as close to the mindset of the protagonist as possible... so that the story becomes an experience.
That makes me want to give it another go Boaz!

The Summer Tree (Fionavar Tapestry part 1) started slowly but quickly picked up the pace and I thought it was a very enjoyable read (although I did question if it was for young adults at one stage) and I'm now on The Wandering Fire (FT part 2) so GW is going to have to wait a little while for me to give it a 3rd shot
TBOTNS is one of those books that you simply have to persevere with... read to the end... then read again... to get maybe one quarter of what's in there. Most of the meaning of the novel is beneath the narrative, and your job as a reader is to work it all out for yourself. But that makes is a fantastically rewarding book. It is unique in SF, and deservedly considered one of the all-time greats.

When I ran the SF and Fantasy shelves when I worked for Waterstones in Devon, I put the omnibus editions (1&2/3&) above the legend, 'The Greatest SF Novel Of All Time' - got lots of sales, and in three or four years only one person returned the book. :)

More on the interwebs here...
Gene Wolfe is a frustrating writer. He has a remarkable imagination and mastery of words. But his absolute indifference to profluence and narrative momentum is maddening. I've read a half-dozen of his novels, and at this point I have my doubts that he is even capable of crafting an engaging plot. If he was capable, you'd think he would have given it a shot by now, if only for a goof. When does unremitting allusiveness stop being a technique, and become a fundamental limitation?
It's a good point. I haven't read many of his recent works, and those I did (eg The Knight/The Wizard) I found dull. Perhaps he's unable to back out of his corner... or perhaps he just loves to be maddening!

The Knight is where I got off the train. Innocent and confused protagonist in a new world he doesn't understand? Check. Lovely young woman who appears innocent but is really drawing him into a trap with her male accomplice? Check. Characters who aren't what they seem? Check. Unexplained gaps in the narrative? Check. Reader giving up in frustration? Check.

It's all very clever and meta. But's it's the same clever meta over and over again. And there's no narrative sugar to help the meta medicine go down. Though I suppose for Wolfe's fans the meta is the whole point.
Gave it 2 more shots! Last night I read a chapter where Severian finds a dog. Then loses it. Then meets a woman. Then goes home. Then I gave up.

Very, very rarely have I given up on a book and it's a shame because I was looking forward to Book of The New Sun but it's not for my taste.

Started Guy Gavriel Kay's Finovar Tapestry instead

I'd urge you to persevere longer. I finished The Book of The New Sun last week, and to be honest, I found it spellbinding. There are many archaic words, many concepts that make no sense to us, but all this is justified by the environment and culture Severian finds himself in. Plus, it's hinted many times that Severian is an unreliable narrator. He finds some seemingly inconsequential things (like the dog) monumental in the course of the story. But trust me on this - everything mentioned does become extremely relevant later in the story. Triskele, the dog, is an important plot point. Valeria and the 'Atrium of Time' appear later, though I won't spoil the story.
Loved the Book of the New Sun. Bought the dictionary (Lexicon Urthus) as well. Fascinating too.
I'm a huge fan of the later Book of the Long Sun and the Book of the Short Sun, though I'm never convinced they are true "sequels" to New Sun and are best read as independent, rather than continuations of the themes and narratives of New Sun.
I've begun a rereading of Shadow, which I read over thirty years ago and which is the only Wolfe novel I have read. I mean to give the tetralogy a pretty serious try this time. My sense is that these books are candidates for the finest fantasy series published since Le Guin's initial Earthsea books (the first three).
Stephen, I probably put "fantasy series" in italics to emphasize that I -- who have expressed an antipathetic impression as regards post-Earthsea trilogy fantasy series -- was going to give this series a try. ;)

Similar threads