Friday, October 2, 2009

Wading through Dune

Third time, lucky, perhaps? The first time I encountered Frank Herbert's Dune was at the tender age of about 14 or so. Back then I managed a page or two before I gave up in disgust. About a decade later I gave it another shot. It is, I'm told, one of those legendary novels You Just Absolutely Have to Read Before You Die, right? Wrong. At age 24 I gave up after the first two chapters. Why? I was bored. The writing was dense, the characters unbelievable. Bear in mind I'd just read John Fowles's The Magus, so it wasn't because I was stoopid or incapable of reading anything of substance.

Okay, almost another decade later, I've tried again. I picked up a copy of Dune at the Donkey Sanctuary's annual booksale in McGregor for the bargain price of R10. It's the copy that must have come out shortly after the very successful David Lynch movie version of the book. Yes, the one with Sting in the skimpy blue plastic undies fame.

So the book sat on my TBR pile for a while then I finally gave a deep sigh and picked it up about a month ago. And I'm glad to say I finished it yesterday. Did I like it? Yes. But there was a lot I didn't like.

For one, Frank Herbert writes like a journalist, and although peeps like Terry Pratchett can get away with the omniscient third-person POV, Frank Herbert's shifting from one POV to the other just got my hackles up. Granted, about a third of the way into the book I was too tired to argue. I just went along with the flow but I still shudder when considering all those young, impressionable authors who'll try to follow suit and think this editor will put up with it when she encounters their paltry efforts.

I laugh when I recall my friend HJ's opinion on Herbert's writing: "It's dishwater." This is from a man who writes propaganda for a living.

I finished the book without caring for any of the characters. Granted, I found the environment interesting and the political posturing mildly entertaining... and I get that Herbert's putting forward a lot of "deep philosophical and environmental stuff" (insert trademark) but as a work of fiction, I feel Dune takes itself far to seriously.

Or maybe I'm innately corrupted by the fact that I like editing novels where I know my readers will be a) entertained, b) enjoy a bit of escapism and c) care about what happens to the characters.

Did I learn stuff? Yes. I appreciate the magnitude of Herbert's scope but if he were to have written this now, he would have found it all but impossible to find a publisher. This may have been a ground-breaking novel for its time but the style of the writing has dated, and not well.

Will I read the others? Perhaps, once the scars have healed.

Okay, okay, I can already feel the rotten vegetables aimed in my direction. I'll back down. I kind of enjoyed Dune, just not as much as I'd prefer to have the next Jacqueline Carey 900-page doorstopper land on my lap.

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