Recent Reads/GGK Book Club: A Song for Arbonne
I just finished A SONG FOR ARBONNE, which was May’s GGK Book Club book. (I’m working on catching up! I bet I’ll be almost caught up by the end of the year! :))
I’ve been kind of interested in re-reading SONG, because I’ve only read it once and it didn’t, er, sing to me, as it were. It’s the one GGK book I’ve never had any particular interest *in* re-reading, which, in the end, caused me to be interested in re-reading it. I was wondering if it was my callow youth that caused it to not click, or if it was the book itself, or, well, what.
It’s the book.
SONG’s real problem for me—and I can remember, however vaguely, that this was its essential problem 20+ years ago as well—is that it is not TIGANA. Now, this is frankly an unfair assessment, because I don’t like to, and try not to, judge books for not being what I want them to be. Especially when the book it’s failing to be is my favourite book, full stop.
The thing is, I feel like SONG wants to be TIGANA. It has so many of the same themes: love of (complicated) family, love of country, love of music, and all the costs therein. It’s not the same story, not even vaguely, but to me, as a reader, it just feels like thematically it’s already been done, and done more powerfully, in TIGANA.
Maybe I’m reading it as the wrong kind of song. Maybe it’s a ballad to TIGANA’s overture, I don’t know, but it just doesn’t work for me the way TIGANA does. I can even see moments in it where I feel like it *should*, but it doesn’t reach the heights (or the depths). I kind of wish I could step back and read SONG first, just to see if, delivered outside of TIGANA’s shadow, it would hit me more powerfully.
There was also—noticeably to me now—the attitude of the main character, Blaise, toward women. It was progressive for his people, but Arbonne’s society is modeled on Eleanor of Aquitaine’s Court of Love, and is ruled by a woman, which Blaise doesn’t start out thinking very highly of. I suspect that my distaste for his distaste may have colored my reading back then; it *certainly* did this time. (He comes around, and does so in a way and a timeline appropriate to both himself and the book, but starting where he does kind of makes me want to smack him around. Again, not a really fair assessment, but there you go.)
Even so, I think I liked it better this time: I wasn’t so much expecting it to be TIGANA, maybe. It was in most ways a total revelation, as I remembered exactly one thing (the big secret revealed at the end) and it turned out I’d entirely forgotten all the particulars (indeed, remembering the big secret caused me to completely incorrectly assign the secret to someone and I was actually surprised when I turned out to be wrong), so it was a pretty satisfying read in most regards.