Fifty Page Fridays is a regular feature here at Far Beyond Reality, meant to highlight books I usually wouldn’t cover in a regular review. In each post, I start off by explaining why I wasn’t planning to review the book. Then I’ll read fifty pages (hence the name) and give my honest impression of that sample. Finally, I’ll give a verdict: do I want to read more or not?
This week’s installment of Fifty Page Fridays is about Hide Me Among the Graves, the newest novel by Tim Powers.
Why I wasn’t planning to review it: Simply put, Tim Powers is an author I’ve admired more than enjoyed over the years. I’ve read a few of his novels, and they always left me feeling like the problem lies with me rather than with the novel – which is an odd feeling to have. This may be similar to what some of my friends who have tried to read Gene Wolfe’s novels experienced. In my opinion, Gene Wolfe is a genius and one of the best writers of our age, but many of the people I’ve recommended him to just can’t seem to get into his books. They often say they admire what he’s doing but just don’t enjoy reading it. This is more or less exactly how I feel about Powers. Obviously an amazing talent. Extremely original, to the point where he’s almost in a genre of his own. I just can’t seem to get into his books, and I have trouble putting my finger on the reason. So, when I saw Tim Powers’ new novel Hide Me Among the Graves, I decided to grab me a copy and once and for all figure it out.
My thoughts after fifty pages: Well, first of all, I read about 200 pages of the 500 or so in my advance reading copy, considerably more than my usual fifty page sample. And guess what? Maybe I’ve changed as a reader, or maybe Powers has changed as a writer, but I actually enjoyed this considerably more than I expected. The story is set in 19th century London and involves poets, painters, vampiric ghosts, veterinarians, prostitutes, and the undead ghost of John Polidori, the erstwhile physician of Lord Byron whose brother immigrated from Italy to London and brought along a statuette containing his brother’s unrestful spirit. Polidori’s niece unwittingly brings the spirit back into our realm, setting off a complex plot told from various points of view. The prose is simply exquisite, and even the fictional poetry, written by the characters, is often great. The characters are, for the most part, so solid and fascinating that it’s at times annoying when the perspective switches away from one. The plot is amazingly well-constructed, one of those stories that gradually widens the scope from what initially seems to be a small family drama with a supernatural edge to something that goes back centuries and covers much more territory than you’d initially expect. Just these first 200 pages contain a few scenes that are simply unforgettable. I’m not sure if this comparison has been made before or not, but a few of the set pieces here reminded me of something David Lynch might create, if he ever decides to film a 19th century ghost story.
The Verdict: Am I planning to read more of this? Well… no. Not right now, at least. Main reason: this is apparently a sequel of sorts to one of Tim Powers’ previous novels, The Stress of her Regard. Hide Me Among the Graves features some of the same concepts as that novel (e.g. the Nephilim), as well as at least one shared character (Trelawney). There may be more – I’m basing this on a few reviews I glanced over, trying to spot connections without catching spoilers. I believe Hide Me Among the Graves may work as a standalone if you haven’t read The Stress of her Regard yet, but once I discovered the connections between the two books I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t getting the whole picture. Based on what I’ve read of the new novel, I plan to go back and read some of Tim Powers’ previous works, including The Stress of her Regard, but for now I’m putting Hide Me Among the Graves on the “did not finish” shelf.