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Mar 2008
Magic for Beginners - Kelly Link - Harper Perennial, 2007
* * * *
Before we begin, I hope you will forgive a small digression on the topic of classical and popular music. The difference, for me, is one of journey. A pop song typically tries to create and hold a mood for four minutes and there is rarely a sense of change (though of course there are some fine exceptions: Bohemian Rhapsody, Yes' experiments in the 70s and the gradually accumulating instrumentation of Kate Bush's "Cloudbusting" spring immediately to mind). By contrast, classical music reflects the second-by-second developments of thought and feeling that we all experience all the time. Just try counting the number of mood-shifts in the four-minute overture to Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro", for example (good luck). Most pop songs are snapshots of our emotional world, often powerful and beautiful but static. Classical music pieces are movies of it, often stylised and simplified but capturing the dynamics of our thoughts and feelings in a way that pop does not.

So to Kelly Link, another good writer of whom you have probably never heard. Like Ted Chiang, her metier is short stories, which is part of the problem. This is compounded in her case by the problem of defining the genre in which she writes. Her stories feature fairies, zombies, ghosts and witches but also student parties, convenience stores, television series and other paraphernalia of modern American life. Present-day fantasy with a twist of magical realism is the nearest I can get to a description, though that fails to capture some of the darker elements that infuse her work.

Her style may be off-putting to some. It's feather-light, semi-humorous, jumping from idea to idea, rarely stopping to express a profound thought. It would be easy to dismiss it as whimsical or twee, and that may be correct. But something is going on underneath, and for all their lightness and inconsequentiality several of these tales leave an indelible mark on the mind.
Read more... )

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